Belief in God can either be a clanging cymbal so noisy that no other noise is heard, or a barely noticed noise that hardly reaches the ear. For some, "belie(f) that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek him" (Heb. 11:6) echoes loudly through their entire life. For others, the echo dies quickly and quietly.
This article compares and contrasts the life-impact of belief in God among ancient and modern Christians. What is the "then" that follows the "if" of belief?
Carving out a precarious place for themselves in a predominantly pagan world, Christians of the first generations of the faith refined and clarified their message. This example of a statement of faith is taken from an early Christian writer named Irenaeus (130-202 AD). Irenaeus' statement is remarkable not because it is unusual, but because it is so simple and so typical.
The church...received from the apostles...the faith in one God the Father Almighty...and in one Christ Jesus the Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation, and in the Holy Spirit, who has proclaimed through the prophets the plans of God...and (Christ's) coming again from heaven...that He might make a just judgment on all...(and) grant incorruptible life and eternal glory to those who are righteous, holy, and keep his commandments.
For Irenaeus, belief echoed loudly and reverberated everywhere and through everything. Beginning with belief in God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, Irenaeus seamlessly and quickly moved to the impact of that belief. If God exists; if Christ is God in the flesh, died for our sins, and will return in judgment, and if the Holy Spirit proclaimed God's plans, then we are bound by His commandments. Instead of separating the theological from the practical, Irenaeus perfectly combined the elements of mental belief with the elements of belief in action. For him, belief in God required obedience to God's commands.
Sigmund Freud asked if Northern Europeans had ever been truly converted from their pagan roots. He observed that, unlike Jews who had deep roots in the Law of Moses, and unlike Southern Europeans who had deep roots in the logic and reson of Greek philosophical traditions, Northern Europeans had been barbaric pagans until Christianity was forced upon them at the point of the sword. Freud wondered if the people who peopled the United States harbored a simmering resistance against the laws of God and a simmering resistance against rationality.
Whatever the source of the resistance, Americans are engaged in a war against God and in a war against reason. Even those who want to accept God for the goodies of His blessings refuse to accept the consequences of belief in God. For many of us, the if of belief is completely separated from the then of keeping His commands.
In contrast to ancient Christians who accepted moral and doctrinal commands as the reasonable consequence of belief, many modern Christians are quite comfortable in accepting a mental concept of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, but rejecting every practical consequence of that belief. Here are some examples:
- Many believe is God, but think that the word God's commands are bad words.
- Many believe in Christ, but think that they can be Christians without regularly assembling with other Christians.
- Many believe in the Holy Spirit, but elevate their feelings, wants, and wishes above the teachings of scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit.
- Many believe that Christ was God in the flesh, but think that the desires of their flesh are off-limits to God, and that they are free to drink as much as they want, behave sexually just exactly as their flesh directs, and so on.
- Many believe that Christ will return for judgment, but are very content to reject the "judgment in advance" of the doctrinal teachings of the New Testament.
One of the characteristics of paganism is that pagans did not connect their belief in god(s) with any moral or doctrinal obligations. This is exactly the direction many are heading today, allowing some belief in God to rattle around in their heads but disallowing God from controlling their lives . For them, the if of belief leads to no then at all.