Was I surprised to hear the results of a recent survey on Christian faith and believing? A report in the Telegraph about the survey included this
‘Only 60 per cent [of those surveyed] believed that Jesus even existed with 22 per cent describing him as a “mythical or fictional character” and another 18 per cent unsure. Among under-35s the proportion viewing Jesus as a fictional character rises to 25 per cent.’
In the last census almost 177,000 people chose to describe their religion as ‘Jedi Knight’ and I wonder how many people will believe that Harry Potter is a real person? But I don’t blame people for this confusion, I blame those of us who do believe in Jesus Christ. So, to answer my own question, no I wasn’t surprised.
I can’t imagine for a moment a Muslim daring to question the historicity of the Prophet Mohammed, nor even any of us who are not of that faith community. But there are elements of the history of the Prophet that as mysterious as elements of the Jesus story. Pilgrims to the Holy Land looking at the Temple Mount and the wonderful Dome of the Rock will be told by their Guide about the Prophet taking flight on his winged horse from the rock beneath the dome on his Night Journey to heaven, leaving imprints behind. They will see on the Mount of Olives the place from which Jesus was taken up into heaven. Faith is surrounded with mystery as it is surrounded with glory.
The question I must ask myself is how I speak of Jesus, the historical Jesus and how ‘real’ Jesus is in my life and in my faith. We have been good at ‘demythologising’ in order (often mistakenly) to help people believe but has that been done at a price that means that the very people we were trying to convince no longer recognise the reality of Jesus? Have we been so good at ‘spiritualising’ Jesus that he has lost his power as the flesh and blood man who entered human history?
G K Chesterton is often quoted as saying
‘When a man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything.’
There seems to be some truth in this. We have just survived Halloween and I mean survived. A visit to any large, or small, supermarket over the last two months has been an assault course through aisles of dressing up clothes for children, ghoulish masks and pumpkin shaped sweets, fake cobwebs and witches hats. There’s a real industry going on here. I’m all for people having a party but why do people seem to believe in ghosts and witches more than saints and Jesus. What are we doing where a school will have a Halloween party and be unable to celebrate a proper Christmas nativity play without the addition of characters from ‘Frozen’?
I’m beginning to rant and I don’t mean to. But it all points to me to the truth of the survey and the challenge that faces Christians and the church. And it is not just about ‘making Jesus real in my life’. Of course I can do that but it is having the confidence to talk about Jesus not in spiritual ways but through the lens of the doctrine of the incarnation.
The early church pinned it all in the words of the Creed. The Nicene Creed says this and we say it at the Eucharist each Sunday.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
We believe in the historical Jesus and if we say we believe in him then we need to speak confidently of that fact and not act as though we are at all doubtful that this is true. You may ask me, of course, for proof. What I offer you is two thousand years of people following this man through life and death, of saints and martyrs, of lives turned round, of gospels written and proclaimed, of churches built, lives offered and consecrated, of Christians embracing death, of new life through baptism, of sacred food at sacred altars, of art and music and literature, of a world transformed, of new civilisations founded, of faith, of hope, of love. This has to be my evidence.
The challenge is out there and those of us who do know Jesus Christ must face up to the challenge.
your reality astounds me,
may I have the confidence
to astound others with your love
and your real presence.