I believe faith is individual and private

There’s something profoundly true about that, isn’t there? This was the second most popular response in our recent survey. Faith is an individual choice, and it is not the role of the government to decide people’s faith for them. Both those ideas are taught in the Bible. Christian faith is about a personal relationship with Jesus. Christians are to convince and persuade people to take up their faith, not to bully people into it, especially by using the government and laws. But does that mean it’s ok to believe anything we want? What if I believe that I should be a suicide bomber? Is that ok? Well, now we need a caveat: you can believe anything you want as long as it doesn’t harm someone else. This has been a popular expectation in Australia for the last 50 years or more, and as far as laws and public policy go, we would have to say it has been good. But is it good morality? Is it a good way to live personally?

One of the popular ways we’ve used to decide if something is good morality or not, is to ask the question: what if everyone did it? What if everyone restricted their behaviour to the standard: not harming others? What would our society look like? There would be no expectation to volunteer, no expectation to venture out and meet the neighbours, no expectation to think of others before ourselves. Society would have low levels of volunteering, become more lonely, and self-focused. That’s exactly what’s happened to our society over the last 50 years, and many see it as a tragedy.

Christian morality, however, calls for a different standard. In a post I did a while back I showed how the golden rule leads Christians to selfless initiatives for others. This is an ideal, but one Christians are encouraged to live up to after the supreme example of their Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Christians believe that the greatest good they can do is share the life-saving and life-changing message of the gospel. This however, will lead to a discussion, and discussions can easily become arguments. Arguments lead to pain and angst. One motivation behind the phrase ‘individual and private’, I suspect, is a desire to avoid the arguments, and the pain and angst that go with them. If we just cut faith out of our discussions we can cut out pain and angst. But it hasn’t worked out that way. We still argue, we still live with pain and angst. It’s just over different topics now. e.g. smoking. Smokers must be the most persecuted people in Australia. Even if a smoker manages to find the only legal location left where they might light up in public, someone will feel utterly vindicated to cross the street to tell them that it’s a disgusting and filthy habit that’s going to kill them. You would be safer swearing at your children then you would be smoking a cigarette in public.

The secular vision for peace is to retreat away from topics like religion that may lead to arguments. The problem with this approach is that it leads to loneliness, and loneliness is at epidemic proportions in Australia today. The Christian vision is a community that comes together in love and peace, but the problem is, how do you do that?

The apostle Paul confronts one of the biggest rifts of his day in the letter to the church in Ephesus. It was the divide between Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles).  He points out to them that when we have peace with God, we can have peace with each other.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,  by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace,   and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:13-18)

He then gives them three images to show them how they share powerful things in common that build a community of peace together: fellow citizens (shared identity), fellow household (i.e. family) members (shared resources), built together as a temple (shared focus – God).

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household,  20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)

Through peace with God we can have peace with each other.  We can have a faith that’s shared and public without the pain and angst. We’ll still rub up against each other a bit, but the peace that Jesus has won for us on the cross leads to a genuine peace between each other. Don’t believe it’s possible? Why not take a visit down to your local church and find out… Want to hear more, check out the sermon over here.