Being born in a stable doesn’t make you a horse. True, but isn’t it equally true that the place and surroundings of your birth have a strong influence on the person you become?
Teenagers kick against ‘the way things are done around here’, and yet it’s almost inevitable that they end up resembling their immediate family in more ways than physical appearance. And the reason is that we like to be like the company we keep; it’s peer pressure, the need to fit in.
Ask a hundred people why they are Presbyterian, or Catholic, or Elim or atheist and over 90 per cent will say that it was the faith or the belief system of their parents. However, if that is the case, what guarantee do we have that we are worshipping in a way that God approves? What assurance is there that what we believe is right? We have only one Bible, and yet at the last count there were over 30,000 different Christian denominations, or sects in the world. Can they all be right?
The conclusion can only be that at some point in our lives we chose what we want to believe; and half a lifetime further along the road of life we believe what we believe because we have always believed it – no other reason.
At a men’s conference a few years ago at which I was a speaker I asked the question, ‘What does it mean for a Christian to fall from grace?’ Without exception everyone said that it means to lose your faith, and then I read from Galatians 5: ‘You who are trying to please God by keeping the law have fallen from grace.’ In other words, being bad does not cause you to fall from grace, being good for the wrong reason does.
Now doesn’t that turn a basic belief system on its head? And yet I know most of those men and can testify that if you were to ask the same question today they would gave the same answer. Why? Peer pressure. Let me illustrate.
When I was at university I came across a study carried out by the Sociology Dept at the University of Chicago. Twenty students were given a simple maths test. Nineteen of them were part of the plot, one was the stooge. The question was asked, ‘What is nine multiplied by nine?’ Of course they all knew the answer was 81, but they had agreed to say eighty-two, and when it came the stooge’s turn to answer, he said, ‘82.’ He knew his answer was wrong but he wanted to fit in more than he wanted to be right.
Could that be why there are over 30,000 denominations, or sects in the world? Each one just different enough to keep it apart from the others, multitudes of groups consisting of people committed to believing the same thing, all seeking comfort in group identity. And it began as early as days of Paul the Apostle when he scolded the Corinthians, ‘Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.” Has Christ been divided into factions?’ and the sad answer to that question is, ‘Yes he has.’
Maybe we need to be radical enough to believe that Jesus saw the tendency for his so-called followers to divide him into pieces, to be choosy about what they believe and don’t believe. Perhaps that is why he said, ‘I give you a new commandment’ – one that transcends doctrines and interpretations – ‘Love one another.’
Typical of the Master; disarmingly simple, and yet profound.