Being a Christian
"How do I know if Christianity is right? I mean, different people say different things, how do I know?"
The whole thing is a lot easier than you think. You do not have to accept anyone else's word or opinion about anything.
You have a conscience. Your conscience is the voice of God within you, and you must listen to it and obey it. It will tell you when something is right, and it lets you know with no mistake when something is wrong.
You know that helping people and making them feel better is right. Christ spent His time on earth preaching how we are to take care of our less fortunate brethren.
You also know instinctively that the One God is a God of love and forgiveness: hatred and holding grudges simply does not work in this world.
Christianity teaches true love of everyone and true forgiveness of everyone. It is not exclusionary or elite. It is how we experience God's infinite love for all mankind.
We do not believe in the Bible and in Christ because we found it all written in an old book. We believe it because we recognize who our Father is, as any child does. The truth of what Christ said is not just written in a book, it is written in our hearts and souls.
But does it not also just make sense to you that God, being an all-around good guy, would have at some point made Himself known to us? But what if He just hasn't done it yet, and the Bible is a hoax? Then I ask you: would God allow this hoax to go forward for two thousand years, fooling everybody into thinking the wrong things, and getting us all into God knows how much trouble? No.
What about other religious books, of other major religions? There is much truth in them. Brotherhood and love are universal, because God is universal. They are good; they are simply incomplete. God will make every allowance for those raised to believe in them. He is infinitely fair.
For example, the Muslim version of God’s word (the Koran) speaks of the same basic principles of goodness that are to govern our lives as the Bible. If one follows these principles, one will not get into any “trouble.” Heaven is full of good Muslims. “The wrong things” are not the form and trappings of our worship, or the exact language words of our sincere prayers. Christ redeems all.
Christianity is a complete understanding of who we are and why we are here. We are children of God. Our souls are immortal, like God, and can never die. God has commanded us to know Him and to love Him, and to show that love by caring for His other children. If we choose to do this, we are fulfilling our destiny as human beings and as His children.
But isn't the Bible just a book, after all, and written by humans? Yes, we humans have to do the actual putting of pen to paper. Let's go back three paragraphs: would a good God allow these writers to write down the wrong things, instead of what He so painfully came to earth to tell us? If He created the entire universe, surely He is powerful enough to make sure that what He wanted us to know about our life and our salvation is free from error.
The great miracle of Christianity is that when you fail Him, when you do wrong, all you have to do is to sincerely ask for forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ, and you will be forgiven. You can start all over again. God, in the person of Jesus, suffered and died so that He could, despite His infinite justice that demands infinite punishment for sins against Him, forgive us. That is how much He loves us. That is sensational news, and should make you extremely happy.
It is so simple. Love God, love and forgive everyone, live a good moral life. When you do that, you open your heart to accept the gift of God's grace, and He will give you unshakable faith that will be a rock on which to build your eternal happiness.
"I understand everything you say except the one point that you made, “Heaven is full of good Muslims.” I thought that Christians believe that the only way to the Father is through Christ Jesus."
Of course we have to accept Christ as God and Savior.
But to assume that acceptance has to come in the normal human way, in the normal course of our human time-line, is to condemn to hell 99% of the people who have been born onto this planet. What’s worse, most would go to eternal torment through no fault of their own, by dint of having the misfortune (ordained by God) of being born at the wrong time or place, without the possibility of listening to a Christian missionary; or with a strong sense of family duty and fealty to continue in an age-old religious tradition, one that often agrees with their conscience.
That makes God out to be quite arbitrary and even downright unfair and mean. That is unacceptable. He is infinitely fair, infinitely understanding, infinitely loving, infinitely merciful, infinitely compassionate and infinitely forgiving
We do not pretend to understand how God works. But we do know that He is also infinitely powerful. What seems impossible to us (said Christ) is easy for God. When Christ told the parable of how it was easier for a camel to pass through the tiny eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, his disciples were amazed, and asked who then could be saved. Christ said, for men this is impossible. But for God, everything is possible.
Everything. We must trust that He is not an unfair ogre. We must trust that He will find a way to save His children who have tried their best to live according to their conscience and His commands. He simply will, even if it means offering them all necessary knowledge to make an informed choice in a timeless instant before they actually die. For God--for heaven--there is no “time” as we know it. All simply is.
We must believe, contrary to whatever else our senses and our reason tell us, in His infinite love. We must trust in that love.
When all is said and done, it is not for us to say who will be saved and who will not be. That is--of course--God’s exclusive purview. But believing in His infinite goodness and mercy is very much our responsibility. We cannot go wrong in the eyes of God by loving our brethren enough to hope and pray and firmly believe that every good person is saved.
"But there are so many things I cannot bring myself to accept about Christianity, or even about the existence of God." |
Of all the things Christ said in the Gospels about love and mercy and taking care of our brethren, which ones do you disagree with? We list a few things He said at "Teachings of Christ."
Many "Christians" do not believe in Christ's divinity, just that He was someone special. No, this is not true Christianity. But it is a start. If all you can believe right now is that He was a very good person, and had the right ideas about how we should live our lives, at least you know that those are good rules to follow.
Whose teachings are better? Do you really disagree with anything Christ taught?
Lead your life in this way, following His teachings and commands, and your life here on earth will be as happy as it possibly can be (although it will certainly still have much pain and sorrow). We know that if you do this, in a sincere effort to be a good person, and keeping your heart and mind open to the Truth, that God will give you the gift of faith in time for your salvation.
In the instant that you die, you will be very pleasantly surprised to find yourself in heaven, in eternal happiness with all the people you love. God will have found time to explain all, and you will see, and you will believe, and you will know that Christ was the Way all along.
”The great failure of mankind is not sin, because temptation is strong and we are very weak. It is the fact that at any moment we can be completely forgiven, just for asking, and we don’t ask.” (St. Francis)
"I know there is a God. But who is He? Does He love me, and why would He want to?"
This is like a person who was lost as a baby saying: I know I have parents (I did not just pop up from nothing), but who are they? Do they love me, and if so, why would they want to? We don't have to ask this, because we know that parents love their children. If we find out that our parents sacrificed everything for us, even their lives, we know just how much they did love us.
We have earthly parents; that is the way our species keeps going. But we also have a Creator, who made us in an even more fundamental way than our earth parents made us. Our earth parents did not have the slightest notion of exactly how they were starting a new life. They only knew that by some long established magic, they could.
God had to start from scratch. He had to make all life, from the very beginning. He would not have bothered unless it was something that He wanted to do. We are not an accident.
Most of what we know about our relationship with our Creator is based on Christian theology. Christ called God our Father, and referred to us all as His children. Those words were carefully chosen to reveal the true nature of our relationship with Him in a way that we could understand. That is the fundamental relationship--not just as an inventor to his robots or toys.
The truth of the universe is this: there is a God. He is infinitely good. He is infinitely happy. Being all good, He could not hog all of His wonderful happiness all to Himself, if He could share it with others that could also enjoy it as He can. So He created true children to share His happiness with.
Why do we have to be true children, like Him? Well, you may love your dog or cat a great deal, and wish to share the happiness you experience when you see a beautiful sunset, or hear great music, or see an exciting Super Bowl. But you cannot. Only your own children, true human beings, can experience your kind of happiness as you do. So God had to make true children. And He would feel about true children just the way we do. Remember, we are His children and so have much in common with Him.
But making true children of God is not a simple matter, even for God. We have to have free will, as God does, to choose between right and wrong. And when that is given, there is nothing at all stopping us from choosing wrong. It is wrong for us to turn away from our Father and not acknowledge His authority over us. But He does not have anyone in authority over Him. We naturally want to be like God too. We want to be like Pop, and have no one telling us what to do. Does this sound familiar? It is the way we all are with our earth parents, too. We have to submit to their authority when we do not want to, or face the consequences. We want to make the rules for our own lives.
But if we do not submit to God's authority, it is more serious. He is infinite God, and our offence becomes infinite. We can't just say we are sorry, because we are finite, and no matter what we do we cannot make up for our offense.
Christianity spells out the mechanism by which God is able to forgive us for turning away from Him and not obeying His commands. Coming to earth as Christ and doing infinite atonement for our sins as true God, and yet being able to do it on behalf of mankind as true man, has always been the great Plan, from the beginning of time. ("In the beginning was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God"). He loves all of His children so much that He was willing to suffer enormously and die on earth so that His infinite Justice could be satisfied and He could forgive us all. That is how we know just how much He loves us.
Christ also told us that God's love is infinite. We can offend Him and He will always forgive us, as long as we are sorry and try our hardest not to do it again. There is no limit to this: no limit how often we fail, no limit how terrible the offense. That is the miracle of Christianity.
"There is no mention of evolution or dinosaurs in Genesis, so how can I be a Christian?" |
True, some Christian churches ignore the obvious facts of this earth. But certainly not all; not Catholic Christians, for example.
Fundamentalist, literalist Christians think that the Bible is accurate history and science. But consider: there are over 32,500 different Christian denominations of churches, and each one differs from every other one in exactly what they believe the Bible says, and in fact think that most, if not all other Christians (besides their own group) are doomed to go to hell because of the errors in their belief. This is truly un-Christ-like, and defies logic. Please read our special short article at The Bible.
The Bible is not a science or history text. It is a moral and spiritual guide. How could God have given accurate science to people thousands of years ago who could not possibly have begun to understand it? Why would He want to? Christ said repeatedly in the Gospels that God's only interest is in getting us to heaven with Him.
No less an ecclesiastic authority than St. Augustine clearly saw this, and the Church agrees. He wrote:
"At least we know that the Genesis creation day is different from the ordinary day with which we are familiar... In short, it must be said that our authors [of Genesis] knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation." (On The Literal Interpretation of Genesis [A.D. 408]).
So contrary to fundamentalist beliefs, the world was not created in one work week, the world is not flat, the sky is not a solid dome with little holes in it with light shining through that we call stars, yes there were dinosaurs, and Evolution is almost certainly a fact. We believe that it is God's great Plan of Creation. It is how He made the universe.
From outside of time, He created the primal energy that all matter evolved from, and also the natural laws such as gravity that all matter obeys. He knew at that point that all He had to do was to let it all take its natural course, and eventually this whole incredible, wondrous, magnificent universe would evolve into being just the way He wanted it. And when the time was right, He infused just the right animal with an immortal soul, made in His own image and likeness, and created the first human beings.
Being able to foresee all that, all the inevitable consequences of just putting energy into time, being able to put laws into place that would result in what we see now, was so awesomely brilliant that it is hard to even comprehend.
But there is certainly no conflict at all between science and Christianity. Do not forget, the essence of Christianity is not details of science; it is our command to love and care for every single person on this earth, including our enemies and those who have different religious beliefs.
"I attend a Christian middle school, but I still don't understand why Christ had to suffer for us."
First you must understand that Christ was true God, not just a man. He is one and the same with God the Father.
Then you have to have a little background as to why God Almighty Himself saw fit to do anything at all, much less take human form and suffer and die.
God created mankind as his children. We all want to have children, even God. Children are very much like their parents; in fact, in this world we are almost like clones. Ten fingers, a hot temper, ability to hit a baseball, that kind of thing. God made us in his own image, and we are very much like him in our own limited way.
The essence of God's nature is his free will. That means he can do anything at all that he wants to, without anyone telling him that he can't. This is obvious, because he is, by definition, the Supreme Being, and no one is "higher up." So to be his true children, he had to give us free will also. But having free will means that we can do whatever we want to. God will not interfere, he will not make us lead the kind of life that he wants us to lead. If he did, we would not be his true children, only his puppets.
Do you see the problem here? Although God has no one who can tell him what to do, we do. God is "higher up" than we are, and can (and does) tell us what to do, just as your parents can tell you what to do. He gave us the Ten Commandments to obey, and also told us many other ways (written down in the Bible) how we are to lead our lives. Do you like it when your parents tell you to do something, and you do not want to do it? No, not at all. Sometimes you go against their will, and do what you want to do anyway. Then they will have to punish you.
But your parents love you very much (you will find this out when you have children of your own that you will love) and do not want to hurt you or punish you. But they have to, for your own good. You will get into really serious trouble in life unless you learn as a child that there are rules that you have to follow. Your parents have rules, school has rules, the Army has rules, the company you work for will have rules. You cannot be a rebel and make your own rules, and still be happy.
When we break one of God's rules, he must punish us too. But he really does not want to, because his love for us is not just great, it is infinite. He will never punish us while we are still alive here on earth, because that would interfere with our free will, or maybe someone else's free will too. He waits until we die.
To make matters worse, when we disobey God it is much more serious than when we disobey our parents. Everything about God is infinite, and to sin against him is to commit a sin that is infinitely bad. We would like for God to be able to just forgive us for doing wrong, instead of punishing us after we die. Sometimes when we apologize to our parents for doing something wrong, and promise to never do it again, they will forgive us and not punish us. That is what we always hope will happen. So we want to be able to tell God we are sorry too, and have him say that he will not punish us.
But sinning against God is an infinite offense, and there is nothing that we can say or do that could make up for that. So God, because he loves us so much, figured out a way so that he could forgive us, and still satisfy his infinite justice.
He decided that he would actually become a human being himself, while at the same time being the one true God. At the same time! We do not know just how he managed to do this, but he is God, after all, and is all powerful. He also decided that all of the sins of all of mankind for all time were so great an amount of sin, that he would have to suffer quite a lot, and actually die, in order to make the infinite amount of atonement necessary to wipe away them all. This was something that he decided had to be done, and he ought to know best. It was his plan, and as little as we know, we cannot argue with it. All we know is, it worked.
If Jesus were not true God, His suffering would not have been sufficient, and we would all be doomed to hell forever. His suffering and death would mean no more than the suffering and deaths of countless other martyrs and prophets. And if Jesus had not also been true man, truly human and one of us, he could not have atoned for us in our place. He had to be true man so we could count his suffering for us.
But forgiveness does not come automatically, all by itself. If we ask him for forgiveness, and are truly sorry, and vow not to sin again, then it will be done. God will forgive us all our sins.
But if he had not figured out a way to satisfy his infinite sense of justice, we would all have to be punished forever for every little wrong thing we do! So we must thank God for doing all this for us. He did it because he is our Father, and he wants every one of his children to enjoy an eternity of happiness with him.
We understand that you will still want to know why God could not have figured out a different way to forgive us, maybe one that did not involve him actually having to become a true human and suffer so much. Well, no one will ever know the answer to that. All we know is that this was the way he did it, and he is God, so it must have been the best way. It is not ours to second guess.
Be good, and study hard!
"If Jesus came down and died on the cross for us, then are you saying that we can commit any sin we want, and simply ask God to forgive us?! That's a bit like a "get out of jail free card" isn't it? "
Not really. To be forgiven we have to be truly sorry for having done it, and that means we have to truly vow never to do it again. Without this intent there is no forgiveness. Also, if restitution is involved, it must be made. We cannot hold up a liquor store, ask to be forgiven, and keep the money. No, no, we have to give back the money before absolution is given. If we harm someone with lies, we have to make a best effort to correct the situation before we can be forgiven.
If we think that we get automatic forgiveness, and so can just nonchalantly do the same thing over and over, we are not forgiven. We can't fool God. He knows we are weak and will always sin, but He also knows how much good will and effort we make to avoid sin.
"Do I have to go to church to be a good Christian?"
Well, it certainly helps. But only if you make the effort in church to actually pray and talk to God. Yes, you can do that anywhere, but do you?
Suppose you worked in a big office building, and you wanted to ask your boss for a raise. Would you wait for him to go by in the hall, and call him into your cubicle, and ask? No, you would you go to his office, after making an appointment, perhaps even at a time that was not convenient for you. That is just how things are. You are asking God to take you home to Him when you die, to an eternity of complete and infinite happiness. I think it is just polite to go to His house to pray. And if it is inconvenient, think how pleased He will be that you did it just to see Him. Offer it up as penance for your sins, and for the sins of the world.
I once heard someone say, "All human beings are defective. They have a flaw, which can only be fixed by Jesus Christ." Why make us defective?"
We are not defective. We are exactly the way we had to be, in order to share the happiness of heaven. Our pride, our "hubris" as the old Greeks called it, has always been considered to be a fatal flaw. But it is not a flaw in our nature. As God's children, we must have free will to do great good, even when it seems like that will be to our own disadvantage; or to reject God's authority over us, when it seems like to do so would result in more pleasures of this world.
Yes, the sacrifice of Christ is necessary for God to be able to forgive us for frequently making the wrong choices. But the "flaw" is not a design flaw; it is entirely of our own making. See our article "Original Sin."
Do you have to be baptized by immersion to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? The Good Thief was not baptized, and we have Christ's word that he is in heaven.
Being "saved" is not like joining a cult. There is no magic ritual that can assure us of salvation. God will judge us when we die, not a moment before, and that judgment will be based on our entire lives.
We are saved by the grace of God alone. If we accept God's grace, then we will have faith in Him. But to accept grace we must follow His commands. Doing that sets up a chain reaction of grace, faith, and salvation. You cannot isolate on one part of this chain. It is very enticing to think that we can be "saved" just by a one time visit to a preacher and getting baptized. But that is not the way it is.
How important is water? Christianity is not a magic show. Baptism is a good thing, and conveys a great deal of God's grace, but the amount of water used is not important. The Good Thief, like millions of other good people who did not have the opportunity to be baptized, received what is called "Baptism of Desire," which to God is just as good.
What is the difference between a Liberal Christian and a Conservative one?
As a quick rule of thumb, you are a Conservative Christian if:
1. You think that you are already saved, no matter what you actually do.
2. You think that people who are not Christians will go to hell and suffer horribly for all eternity.
You are a liberal Christian (or a Catholic Christian) if:
1. You know that God’s love for all of His children is infinite.
2. You know you must not merely say words of faith, but show your faith in Christ by following His command to love God and to love all of your brethren as much as you love yourself. That is, let no poor person go hungry or without shelter, to the best of your ability.
How literally should we interpret the Bible? If it is the word of God, isn't everything in it true?
It is indeed the word of God. It includes, in the four Gospels, all the actual words that God said during His stay on earth. We can be sure that His own words included everything that is important to us. Speaking to us in person, He would hardly have left anything out. Earlier writers can foreshadow His coming, and later writers can give explanations of what He said. But what He said is what He wants us to know.
What did God choose to say to us?
Did He explain mathematics, or physics, or chemistry? No. Did he say which economic system works best? No. Did He give us any cures for disease, or correct our history books? No. None of that. Nothing that relates in any way to this world.
All He talked about was what we personally had to do to achieve happiness forever in the Kingdom of Heaven. It makes a long list, if you are to write it out. Feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, be humble and meek, love your enemies, do not retaliate against evil but instead "turn your other cheek" and so on. If we did these things, we could receive the gift of God's grace, and then through Christ we would be saved.
When a young man asked Him to sum up everything that is important to us, He said "Love the Lord thy God with your whole heart, and love your neighbor as yourself." Nothing complicated. That was pretty much His message.
How much of the Bible is true?
Everything that could possibly affect our salvation, in exactly the same way that Christ taught. We cannot rely on it to supply us with accurate physics, or astronomy, or social customs, or history, or anything else that does not directly affect how we are to lead our lives.
Like any literature, the Bible must rely on human language to convey its ideas.
Language is far from a perfect way to relay thoughts from person to person, even when those thoughts are simple. Words are asked to carry heavy loads; the same word will convey a wide range of different thoughts and emotions from person to person. When we translate from one language into another, as is the case when we do not read the Bible in the original languages, that problem is compounded many times over. It was also written two thousand years ago, and the meaning of words change over time.
When discussing the Infinite, language is completely inadequate. Even quite ordinary passages in the Bible can be interpreted in many different ways, and even the best interpretations cannot possibly describe something that we cannot, by our finite nature, comprehend. So do not expect any informative descriptions of God, or heaven.
The one thing we have to guard most carefully against is taking passages out of context.
This means that a passage may seem to have one meaning, but if you read other things with it from other parts of the Bible, it becomes clear that the meaning we thought it had is not true, and we must revise our thinking. Christ Himself even remarked that the Devil can quote scripture (Old Testament in this context, of course) for his own purposes.
But we are confident that God has taken all of this into consideration.
He knows about the limitations of languages and translations. But He also knows (see the remark about the Devil, above) that several people can read the same words and arrive at several quite different meanings. If we assume that God will keep each of us individually free of error when reading these words, then we would have to assume that everything in the Bible has many meanings, each true for the person doing the reading.
But there is only one truth, not many.
This leaves us in quite a quandary. Who has the authority to interpret the Bible in the one and only one correct way? Not any one person. Not you, or me, or the preacher at the local church.
Did Christ say that we could always trust our own interpretations of the Bible?
No. He left us His Church, that is specifically responsible for interpreting the Bible. To believe that we personally could know the mind of God and assign different meanings to His words than those that His Church has given them would be the height of "hubris" or pride.
The exact words of Christ are: "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:17-20)
Please go to our special short article at The Bible.
If we abide by Church interpretations of the Bible, we can be certain that God is giving us His true message. He would not try to fool us. We are to derive from the Bible a blueprint for our lives. It tells us what our relationship with God and man must be.
Above all, the message of the Bible is simple and straightforward.
The vast majority of God's beloved children are completely uneducated, and He has also seen fit to dispense a wide spectrum of intelligence. But each and every one of these children must have an equal opportunity to know the truth. God's essential message to us is not a difficult tome of over a million hard to understand words. It is to believe that God loves us more than we can ever know. It is simply to return His love, and to express that love by caring for His other children.
"I was told that God sends everyone to hell who does not believe in Jesus."
That is the Fundamentalist view. It is not the Catholic view. Since God is infinitely merciful, loving, compassionate and fair, and since He sacrificed Himself for all mankind to take away the infinite nature of our offences against Him, we may hope and pray that He will save everyone.
Also, we do not have to make the decision to accept Christ at any particular time in our lives. God is infinitely powerful, and can offer His grace in the last nanosecond of anyone's life, together with enough information to make the choice easy. This grace, by which we are saved, is a gift; and he can offer it to anyone at any time, and not just to Christians.
To not believe this is to limit God's love and power, and that is impossible. Your conscience will tell you that this is the correct view, and that an all-loving God would not send a person to eternal torment because they had the bad luck not to be visited by a missionary. To think so would be, to say the least, very un-Christian.
But a person who has spent a lifetime ignoring God's commands and turning their back on Him might be incapable of receiving God's saving grace when it is offered. So be good.
"Can I be forgiven of sins and saved without being a Christian?"
God arranged things so He could forgive us (and not give us the punishment we may deserve), by becoming a human being Himself, and living on earth as both true man and true God.
We do not have to be aware of that to benefit.
Billions of people have lived and died without ever properly hearing about Christianity. They never had a real choice. God did not say that His Redemption was only valid for certain people, who happened to have the luck to hear all about it. He offers the gift of His saving grace to all of His children. A person's conscience is the voice of the one true God. If they follow their conscience, they will accept that gift, and God will forgive them.
After all, He died for all of His children. He is infinitely fair, infinitely compassionate, and infinitely merciful. How merciful and loving would it be to send someone to hell because they were born in a place or time that had no Church?
He will find a way, since He is also infinitely powerful, to offer salvation to everyone. To think otherwise is to put limits on God's goodness, and that is impossible.
"Why can't I have a good relationship with God without going through Christ?"
Because Christ and God are one and the same. ["I and the Father are One."]
The Mystery is this: There is only one God. Christ was both true God and true man.
We are finite human beings trying our best to understand an entity that is beyond our experience, and possibly beyond our comprehension. We are a single personality creature. God is not. He is complete and perfect, and so we have to assume that the Trinity is just our imperfect way of expressing that His nature is different and somehow multiple. Christ is God, who became true Man to atone for our sins.
As true man, he called out to be relieved of His suffering. When Christ prayed to God the Father, it was as true man that he prayed. He was human, but He knew what horrors awaited Him. Any human being would ask for God's help, and this was exactly what Christ did. He was a true human being, even though He was true God.
As true God, He had to allow His human life to go forward to achieve His purpose.
The central core of Christianity is that we cannot expect forgiveness all on our own because we cannot ever do anything so huge as to atone for having offended an infinite God. Left to our own devices, we would be condemned to eternal punishment. But this is not why God created us.
His Grand Plan called for God Himself making atonement. To do this, He worked out an arrangement whereby He became both true Man—so He could represent us—and remain true God, so He could make infinite atonement. This was obviously the most important event in human history.
We cannot advise belonging to any group that does not recognize the Divinity of Christ. This is absolutely central to Christianity, as otherwise He could not have atoned for our sins.
"But why can't a man just tell God, 'I am sorry, please forgive me.' Why is the path to reconciliation so narrow? Why not Jewish, or Buddhism, or Indian mysticism? Why is Jesus the only path to salvation?"
That is the whole point, anyone can just say he is sorry. But only because of the atonement of Christ. Just a person being sorry, or doing any amount of penance, could never atone for the infinite sin of rejecting an infinite God. There is only one Truth of our existence, and that is it. And it works for Jews and Buddhists, and Indian mystics too. They just won't know all the details until, as good people, they are called to heaven.
The path has to be narrow, because there is, after all, just one God and so one Plan for our salvation. But it is also so wide that it embraces everyone. God loves all of His children equally.
"I have been an evangelical Christian for 30 years. Christians do not seem to have any tolerance for things foreign to them. Why are those who don't know about Jesus much more tolerant and loving than my people?"
Most religions teach love and forgiveness. Bear always in mind that there is just one God. One. He hears all prayers, He is beside His children, all of them, at all times. He gives everyone the same conscience, the same innate ability to discover within ourselves what it is that He expects of us. He loves us all equally. [I use He only because there is no gender-neutral pronoun.] He knows perfectly well that many people were raised since birth to believe in concepts of Him that are not Christian. He is infinitely fair, and makes all allowances for them. But their consciences are exactly the same as ours, and they are true children of God just as we are.
It is certainly true that many Christians do not mirror the qualities that we think of as Christian. There are over 32,500 different denominations of Christian churches, each one believing it alone knows the way to God. Christ taught a simple, straightforward gospel. His message was love, and mercy, and understanding, and tolerance, and compassion, and forgiveness, and fairness. To the extent that any church or any faith teaches that, it is right. To the extent that it ignores His teaching, it is wrong.
But we are human. We mess everything up. Somehow His followers, who should love one another, and also love every other one of His children no matter what faith they believe in, close themselves off in little cliques and, like the worst cultists, think that God only loves them. They love and help only those who think exactly like they do.
But Christ is not to blame. We are. And you can get it right, even if so many others do not.
"Is my church –Lutheran--wrong?"
Too often people get the impression that God only reveals Himself to a few people, and that no one else will be saved.
This kind of thinking is about as far from true religious thought as possible. God loves each and every one of His children. He will use His infinite power to get all good people to heaven with Him. Religion is not exclusionary, nor is it a set of rigid rules. It is the realization that God loves us with a passion that is infinite, and the response that we make as loving children.
Your Lutheran religion is not wrong, and neither are the vast majority of the world's religions. They are merely incomplete. There is one God and one only, and He oversees them all and hears the prayers and the pleas of all. Your conscience is the voice of the One God within you. It directs you to be a good person, kind and caring. When you do that, no matter what religion you were raised in, you open yourself to the acceptance of God's loving grace. That grace is all you need for your faith and your salvation.
The Truth is like a many faceted jewel. Many people go to many churches, each believing that the one facet that they see is the only one, and that everyone else is blind. Our one goal as human beings is to recognize our Father--our Creator--and to try our best to be like him. He is infinitely loving, and merciful, and kind, and fair, and compassionate. He will offer each of His children sufficient grace for salvation. To the extent your church preaches that, it is right.
But just as there is one God, there is also, necessarily, one Church that He has entrusted with the complete Truth.
"But which Christian church should I attend? There are so many, and all claim to be best!"|
Many churches claim to follow Christ. Most are good, well intentioned people. They all share many elements of the Truth, and God must be pleased about this.
But historically, there is only one Church that traces its beginnings all the way back to Jesus saying to the Apostle Peter, "Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock (Peter meant "rock" in Greek) I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven."
That is pretty clear; the full context is in Matthew, chapter 16. All other Protestant Christian churches (all 32,500 of them!) were started up by people after the year 1517 because they disagreed with the way the Catholic Church here on earth was being run.
Our best advice to you is to follow your conscience about this. Do whatever you truly believe is right. We all did just that, and for us the answer was clear. We are Catholic. Our dream and our prayer is for one family of Mankind in Christ.
Please see our Questions About Our Catholic Faith page for a more complete discussion of just what the role of the Church is, or if you are thinking of returning to Catholicism.
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(how He wants us to lead our life, a complete guide).
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