Onward Christian Socialist
By Terry Wynn
"I know that my Redeemer lives -
What joy the blest assurance gives !
He lives, He lives, who once was dead;
He lives, my everlasting Head."
Samuel Medley (1738 - 99)
PUTTING THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
Many socialists see no need to believe in God. How then do I begin to explain my faith to them and to anybody else for that matter without going into the origins of the universe?
As stated in chapter 1, my faith came over a period of time; it didn't suddenly happen. The voice that night wasn't the audible equivalent of a blinding flash; I didn't jump up shouting "Praise the Lord, I'm saved." It was the watershed that helped me to find a faith in God.
For those who don't experience such a moment, or who don't get those long periods of solitude like being at sea, how is it possible to be convinced that this Christian faith is something more than an "opium of the masses," as Marx said? How does one convince a doubter, a sceptic, an agnostic, a European socialist or even an habitual churchgoer, that the Christian faith is a living thing? The fact that it has been around for a couple of thousand years must have something in its favour. I doubt if the cult of Elvis will last much beyond the lifetime of his fans.
So why has this man Jesus been able to command a continuous following for such a long time? What is it that can alter people's lives so radically, that can make ordinary people live their lives in extraordinary ways? I can only explain it through two perspectives, one a historical one and the other from experiences.
First the historical perspective. It's worth pointing out that the Bible is not the only source of reference to Christ regarding his life and death (see Appendix 1).
In the New Testament, a series of articles are written by various authors who record his life, death and resurrection, the last one being very important. Many people knew him and saw him both before and after his death.
The Resurrection is fundamental to the Christian faith and a book worth reading is "Who Moved the Stone?". This in effect says if the disciples stole the body would they have put their lives at risk and indeed be martyred for something they knew was phoney? If the Romans or the Jews stole the body, it would have been easy to display it to rubbish those early Christians. What I am convinced of is that something quite fundamental occurred (i.e. the Resurrection and at Pentecost) to make people behave the way they did.
The first martyr was Stephen who was stoned to death after proclaiming his faith to the religious leaders of the day. Just imagine that you are there at that time and you and Stephen are the best of pals. Stephen is so convinced of what he has seen, of what happened in the upper room at Pentecost that he is prepared to take on the hierarchy of the Church. When he has made his speech, the crowd pick up rocks and stone him to death. If you had been there, if he had been your pal and you saw him stoned to death, would you have done the same thing with the same risk? Well that is exactly what they did.
Those early Christians were tortured and killed because they had witnessed something quite profound and were committed to Jesus to the extent that they sacrificed their lives. They didn't do it for fun or to prove any meaningless point. They continued to profess their faith in Jesus as many of them were being slain for it.
Probably the most interesting character is Paul who, as Saul of Tarsus, actively persecuted, tortured and had put to death these Christians. Whatever happened on the road to Damascus changed his life completely, to such an extent that he was tortured, beaten and eventually killed for his belief in a Jesus that he had not known as the disciples had.
All these early Christians were Jewish believers. Their religion was part of their life and upbringing, yet they were prepared to worship God through Jesus and risk the wrath of the Jewish establishment and culture. The importance of this fact cannot be overstated.
As mentioned above, something significant happened to bring about these changes in human behaviour. Because it was recorded almost two thousand years ago does not make it a myth or untrue. We believe other events of two thousand years ago with a minimum of written records, so why should we be doubtful about these events? And if it was all fabricated, then one would think that the authors of the Gospels, Acts and Epistles would have collaborated to ensure that their writings were all in agreement. There are obvious discrepancies in the texts; you don't have to be a religious scholar to figure them out.
The Bible is not like Muslims claim the Koran to be, the dictated word of God. The Bible is a collection of books gathered together over centuries, written by various authors in various times with various cultures. The New Testament Gospels and Epistles were written years after Christ's death by different people and, although the texts don't completely correspond, their message is the same.
Let me give an example; on that Easter Sunday morning who did actually discover that the tomb was empty? Matthew's Gospel (28:1) says it was Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary"; Markís Gospel (16:1) says it was Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome; Luke (24:1) says it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and other unnamed women; and John (20:1) says it was Mary Magdalene on her own, who then went to get Simon Peter and another disciple. For me, the discrepancies don't confirm any conspiracy or plot, they simply show human deficiencies in remembering and recording over many years.
Having said all that, what if it was all a con and for two thousand years millions of people have been kidded along, even the countless Christians who have gone to the wall for their belief. Let me quote the words of Colin Morris, "I suppose there are upwards of a thousand million Christians in the world. They can't all be deluded. They may, of course, all be mistaken, in which case, what a mega-mistake! What a billion-brain-power aberration! From this error has stemmed heroic living; a great civilisation; magnificent music and art and literature and scholarship; history-changing ideas; simple goodness; a thousand blessings of faith - all from that error." (BBC TV, Lent l990).
Which brings us to the second perspective of experiences. Would the early Christians have done all they did if they hadn't believed Jesus was alive? It's the same belief, this faith, that has sustained Christianity all this time. It's because of the things that people experience that their faith is sustained.
Jesus lives in the hearts and minds of people today, everyday people with whom I come into contact, with the youth club leaders of my youth, good working-class people; those who have dedicated their lives to God, and those who try their best to live out their faith in their everyday lives. There is no shortage of literature that records how people's lives are affected by their Christian faith. However, for me the best examples are those ordinary people whom I know. Ordinary they may be, but they have extraordinary ability to live out their faith. I always say that we, the people who go to church, are God's army on earth. He only has us to work with, the elderly, the young, the infirm, the doubtful. "Who, me?", they usually say, but it's true.
The Christian faith is spread by acts and words of this army of ordinary people. Great preachers or evangelists are okay in their place but a lot of "converts" come about because they see God at work in people they know and that's because they have Jesus in their lives. Iíll expand on this in Chapter 5.
I can say without embarrassment that Jesus is alive today. Here I am, a rational, normal family man; I spent twelve years in the Merchant Navy where I boozed and swore along with the best of them and saw just about every aspect of life that you can see; I have a M.Sc. so I can't be thick; I have a good sense of humour so I can't be called miserable; I live an affluent life in an affluent society so I'm hardly in need of Marx's opium. Do you honestly think I would say something like "Jesus is Alive", if I didn't mean it, hadn't given it serious thought and hadn't experienced something that convinces me it's true?
Millions of words have been written by individuals about their experiences. One of my favourites is reprinted in Appendix 2. It's taken from "The Cross Behind Bars" by Jenny Cooke. It's the story of Noel Proctor, the Chaplain of Strangeways Prison in Manchester. The book is worth reading even though it is too "sugary" and fails to bring out Noel Proctor's marvellous character especially his great sense of humour. This extract tells the story of one inmate, whose surname was Graham, just before Noel left Dartmoor. It's a good example of one man's experience and how it changed him, and if the likes of Graham can change, then anybody can.
The following chapters will give an insight into the experiences of several people, all of whom display their faith in their lives and actions, all of whom are Christians, the majority of whom are socialists, and between them have either helped or influenced me or simply left a lasting impression.
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