I’m just gearing myself up to deal with this question when my Aunt Ethel interrupts. She’s a staunch member of a Baptist church in Wolverhampton.
Aunt Ethel: Now just hang on a minute before you start! Be careful what you’re saying. Your church and churches like it may be empty, but our church and churches like ours are well – attended and full of young people too.
Me: Maybe so, Aunt Ethel, but they are still a minority……
Aunt Ethel: Don’t patronise me with statistics young man! I’ll tell you why ours is full and yours is empty. It’s because you have abandoned the gospel! It’s because you have dishonoured the Word of God in the Bible by preaching all kinds of new- fangled things like being nice to Muslims and homosexuals. That’s why your church is empty……
Me: But these are important issues that have to be faced….
Aunt Ethel: Yes, but they have to be faced with the truth of God’s Word. People are not looking for some wispy-washy liberal stuff when they come to church. They want certainty. A clear-cut Gospel with clear-cut standards. A teaching that leads society instead of following it. And I not just talking about older people, it’s young people too. They want certainty as well.
Me: You mean the sort of certainty the Muslims have?
Aunt Ethel: Exactly! You don’t find them apologising for Allah…….. Eh, well, of course I don’t mean what they believe of course, that’s all lies, but their assurance, their certainty….
Me: I don’t see how you can call it lies, Aunty-after all it’s all written down in a holy book that contains God’s truth. As you say, it gives them complete certainty – apart from the way one lot of them disagrees with the other. But yes, they all are certain. How can you say they are wrong?
Aunt Ethel: Because the Bible is God’s Word while their Qur’an is the words of human beings.
Me: While they would say that the Qur’an is God’s Word while the bible is the word of human beings. And they’re so certain that if you insult their holy book, they’ll stone you to death. All of that admirable certainty leads to killing.
Aunt Ethel: I’ve got confused in here. In the end of the day my church is not preaching the Bible it is preaching Jesus Christ as our saviour, who died for our sins and gains us salvation and a place in heaven! That’s the real certainty. The rest is important, but that’s the message. A lot of your churches don’t preach salvation any more.
Me: I grew up in a gospel church so there’s something there I agree with. But you know all I ever heard about Jesus as child and a young man was how he died on the cross for my salvation. He was supposed to be important but his life didn’t seem to matter. Yes, he was born of a virgin, did some miracles, died and rose again…..
Aunt Ethel: What could be more important than Jesus being my saviour?
Me: I don’t doubt your salvation Auntie, but I want to ask you a question: do you like Jesus ?
Aunt Ethel: What in earth do you mean? I love Jesus as my saviour!
Me: But do you like him? I mean, for example, he associated with tax collectors and prostitutes.
Aunt Ethel: I don’t think the better of him for it, but I suppose he had to save them.
Me: And he attacked people who were sure of their salvation and looked down on others…
Aunt Ethel: But it was just a Jewish salvation….
Me: And he criticised the holy scriptures….
Aunt Ethel: No he did not!
Me: He did you know. He said, the Law says this but I say that. He challenged the Scripture in God’s name.
Aunt Ethel: You’re right. I’m not sure if I like him. I prefer to love him as my saviour!
Me: My saviour too I hope. The saviour of the world. I like your enthusiasm for Jesus. I like your church’s determination to reach out with the gospel. We’ve a lot to learn from you. But we also have to know our saviour as a troubling difficult man who hated religious certainties but loved sinners and poor people. We have to reckon with the fact that maybe the clearer we are about his message, the less popular it will be.
Aunt Ethel: ( starts humming “O Happy Day”)
Me: (joins in)
Aunt Ethel: See, that’s the Gospel !
Me: But only if we remember the real Jesus. We’ll talk again Aunty.