UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

The Big Question

Why become a Christian today?

By Ross Lockhart


The signs of the end of Christendom are all around us. The United Church now closes a congregation every week. Many congregations are greying and declining. The headlines are full of angry atheists who make believers feel foolish for their faith. Where I live on the West Coast, people are not angry with Christianity but totally apathetic — so much so that I would describe the good-natured people I bump into as “non-practising atheists.” Given the culture of the day, why would anyone choose to become a Christian? Is Jesus’ message still relevant in this secular age? 

In Why Christian?, arguably our finest living United Church theologian Douglas Hall confesses, “The Christendom into which I was born . . . no longer exists — pockets and vestiges of it notwithstanding. Few people in the Western world today are ‘caused’ to be Christians by the sheer accident of birth. Many may start out that way, but fewer and fewer find inherited Christianity reason enough to stay Christian.”

Now some may be totally discouraged by this state of affairs, especially if they grew up in a Canada where “inherited Christianity” was the norm and where being a good Christian and a good citizen went hand in hand. As a Gen X pastor, I still hear about those “glory days” in visits with older adults. “Reverend, I remember when there were 1,000 children in the Sunday school and we had to set up special classrooms in the janitor’s closet just to fit everyone in.” Funny thing, however, is that those of us in leadership from a younger generation don’t remember those days. We recall Sunday school as sitting with a few other kids in a mould-infested, crumbling 1950s-era Christian education wing with a faded blue-eyed and blond-haired Christ poster in the corner, aimlessly doodling on connect-the-dot Jesus colouring sheets to keep us busy. No, Christendom is not a part of our memory, and that may be a huge advantage in the years ahead. Instead of trying to get back to the glory days, we look forward in hope, trusting that just as the Almighty went ahead of the people like a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, so too our triune God is moving forward — the holy ground ahead of us saturated with prevenient grace.

I’m excited about the “refiner’s fire” that God is putting our church through at this time because it forces us to make a decision between an emphasis on institutional survival and partnering with the Almighty to help make disciples for Jesus. We are forced to re-examine concepts that our dodgy missionary past has turned us away from, questions of evangelism and conversion. 

Now I know that the language of conversion makes United Church people nervous, but we swim in a culture of conversion. A culture that strives every minute to convert you from Pepsi to Coke, from Gap to Calvin Klein and from Cialis to Viagra is anything but benign. As Bryan Stone reminds us in Evangelism After Christendom, in “every direction we turn, we are offered the promise of ‘makeover,’ whether of body, face, wardrobe, career, marriage, home, personality, or soul.”

In such a context, we need to find an effective witness to “the hope within us.” Why become a Christian today? While there are many philosophical paths and religious influences that beckon in this world, I for one find the vision of the Divine we glimpse in the risen Christ so unbelievably compelling that I will continue to make a case for why becoming a Christian matters. The invitation to dance with the Trinity, to see our lives as created and blessed by the Almighty, to follow a way that’s narrow with a love that’s wide is an intoxicating and totally consuming way of life. To follow Jesus, to rest in his assurance, to wrestle with his teaching, to put in practice Gospel medicine is at the same time wonderful and painful, challenging and encouraging, personal and global.

In the end, we don’t choose to be Christian at all; Christ chooses us. “When were you saved?” the Swiss theologian Karl Barth was asked. “Two thousand years ago, on a hill outside Jerusalem,” he answered. Becoming a Christian doesn’t solve all the problems of the world or make life easy, but it does promise a revelation of God perhaps best summed up by German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Discipleship means joy.” 


Rev. Ross Lockhart is the lead minister at West Vancouver United.  

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Faith

The author is baptized at Central United in Calgary. (Photo courtesy of Al Coe)

Why I got baptized in a United Church at the age of 42

by Jacqueline Mercer-Livesey

"I told myself that I didn’t need to go to church to believe in God. I found peace and the Holy Spirit in the things that surrounded me. But still, there was a nagging sense of something missing."

Promotional Image

Observations

Editor/Publisher of The Observer, Jocelyn Bell.

Observations: The rewards of letting go

by Jocelyn Bell

Editor Jocelyn Bell reflects on the upcoming changes for The United Church of Canada, the magazine and in her own life.

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Two nurses tackle Vancouver's opioid crisis

Richard Moore is a resident of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. In this poignant interview, he explains the important work of nurses Evanna Brennan and Susan Giles.

Promotional Image

Columns

June 2018

The moment the Pope asked me to pray for him

by Miriam Spies

A United Church minister on the impact of a simple gesture from a powerful man.

Society

July 2018

Best self-care tips for caregivers

by Kate Spencer

Counsellors, teachers and ministers share what it looks like for them.

Faith

July 2018

Meet your 2018 moderator nominees

by Mike Milne

Later this month, General Council commissioners will choose the United Church’s next moderator. As of press time, 10 leadership hopefuls had been announced. We asked each of them to sum up their pitch in a tweet.

Faith

July 2018

A fond farewell to presbyteries

by Steven Chambers

They will likely be eliminated this year as the United Church restructures. Steven Chambers celebrates the end of an era.

Society

July 2018

Instead of retirement, these two nurses are battling Vancouver's opioid crisis

by Roberta Staley

At age 71 and 65 respectively, Evanna Brennan and Susan Giles embrace their unconventional work in the Downtown Eastside.

Columns

June 2018

I hate you, Canada, for teaching people to treat me like this under your name

by Zach Running Coyote

A Cree actor says he blames our country for the racist comments recently directed at him in a McDonald's restaurant.

Promotional Image