From the New testament itself we can see that many of the converts expected Jesus to return in their lifetime; there was a story that He would come before St John died, and we see an echo of this in John 21:22-24. But that did not happen, and those who had thought that the ‘last days’ should be taken literally were disappointed. Here we enter into one of the darkest areas of the history of Christianity in terms of our knowledge. There are the lights provided by the works of the Apostolic Fathers, but as we might have expected from a faith followed by so many ordinary people, there is a paucity of evidence about how those early Christians worshipped and carried on their lives. But their existence is the same as our own in some ways – we are all in what might be called a post-conversion and pre-tribulation stage. We all face the unglamorous task of living our Christian lives in a world which, at best does not care, and at worst is hostile to us. In many ways this is the real test of us as Christians, because whilst an emergency or a crisis may bring out in us some expected, or unexpected courage, there is another sort of it required for our daily lives as Christians.
I have been fortunate enough to have been involved lately in some catechism classes, and to have been able to do some work with a local Shelter for the homeless, and these have been excellent in terms of grounding my Christianity in some practical applications of it. Nearly all those serving at the Shelter are Christians, and we come from all denominations and none; we are united in the belief that Christ commands us to help those less fortunate than us, and we don’t ask what church we each come from – or, for that matter, whether those we are helping are Christians. We are all made in the image of God, and nothing seems more mandated by Scripture than that we should help those who need it if we can.
But such activities, like going to Church, are what might be called ‘peak’ activities, where our Christianity is put to public service; it is the other times which test us. How often do we talk with God in our daily lives? Are there senses in which in our ordinary routine we are also serving God? Struans referred to this in his recent essay:
How is it that Christians, many with developed personal relationships with God, can organize their lives so as to account for what God wills? Clearly it follows that to seek some form of unity of compassionate, self-giving love is willed for the flourishing of the community and those within it.
There is much in this, and it points to the importance of community; there are those who can live their Christian life in a kind of solitude, and I am full of admiration for their fortitude, but Struans is correct to note that living with others draws on our Christian love and develops it:
To bear with one another in the most practical of ways is in the ultimate where talking of a personal relationship with God helps us understand God – because is it when God is found in the practical deprivations and disagreements of our broken world that we can understand God in dimensions that help build the deeper personal relationships of all kinds that the Kingdom is made of.
It is, indeed, in that contact between our own brokenness and that of the world that the healing Grace of God moves most powerfully.
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