THE MEANING OF BEING CHRISTIAN
I profess to be something of a traditionalist in spiritual matters. I was raised in the Dutch reformed tradition, confirmed in the more orthodox German reformed Church and have been a Presbyterian for half a century. Among these three branches of the Reformed faith I found the welcome first accorded me and my family at St Columba’s in South Africa indicative of an attitude to accept me as a questioning worshipper in search of intellectual enrichment and opportunities to express my faith in tangible, non-dogmatic ways. I attribute this tolerance of diversity to the Scottish origins of our denomination.
Scots ranked first and Jews not far behind them have been identified in research at an American university as the two leading ethnicities in terms of achievement in all fields of endeavour. They are also indicative of high standards in education, independent thought and expression. I cannot lay claim to any Celtic roots, but on my mother’s side draw on a Jewish tradition. It enables me to appreciate the foundations of Christianity in Judaism in a continuum of basic beliefs that unite us. As Rinny Westra used to remind us, Jesus was not the first Christian, but a practising Jew, who, like the later reformers Luther and Calvin, challenged the established order and laid the foundation for a new direction in religious adherence and expression.
I have often asked myself how these rebels against the beliefs and practices of their time would see us as their successors adhere to their teaching and example? Much has been made over the centuries of the miracles attributed to Jesus and a succession of saints that defy the beliefs of later generations steeped in the enlightenment of the industrial and technological revolutions that influence people’s attitude to the super natural and with it their religious beliefs. Rational thinking would have us believe that Christ has lost his credibility in a world where reality determines outcomes and spirituality is regarded as superstition.
I counter this by reminding critics of religion that the institutions of our modern society undeniably have their foundations in the teachings and example of Jesus Christ and even if we were to deny him his God-like status, he would stand out as the most influential person of his time and beyond. Progressive Christians have adopted the rationalist approach of accepting and portraying the human side of Jesus to deal with present day disbelievers and presenting a valid case for 21st century Christianity.