Reaching My Community
Recently, I’ve been blessed to be included in the rotation of local clergy who submit articles for the Thursday edition of our local newspaper. There are many churches and parachurch organizations in our community, so each rotation runs about seven months.
This time around I decided to more directly address my work at the bookstore. You can read the article at this link, or below.
We can’t earn eternal life
My work at Cobourg’s Christian bookstore necessitates dealing with the broadest spectrum of Christ-followers imaginable.
From the deeply committed to the nominal, each would call themselves Christian yet often we speak different dialects of the faith.
Years ago, I made a point to visit many of the different expressions of Christian worship found in the greater Port Hope and Cobourg area, including some small groups which are not on anybody’s radar. I made it to 32 out of the 38 I identified. I feel I gained a better understanding of who we all are.
There are believers whose approach is that we have all sinned and that by praying a particular prayer we can be assured of entering into eternal life with Christ. Many feel blessed to be able to record an exact date when, like the Apostle Paul, their life was going in one direction and then, at the moment of repentance and conversion, their life turned around. I think it’s important to have a ‘before-and-after’ story, though I acknowledge that, as C. S. Lewis pointed out, entering into eternal life is often the result of a process, not a crisis experience. I also worry about over-simplification, where faith becomes conformity to a four-step program or an external set of behaviours, with little allowance for experiencing grace in the middle of messy lives.
Then there are those whose emphasis is that faith is outworked in the sacraments, and faithful adherence to the church. Like the Apostle James, I think a faith that doesn’t find some tangible expression is both lifeless and meaningless. However, this approach again can lead people to believe that their eternal destiny has been determined by things they do rather than through the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross. We can’t earn eternal life.
Increasingly, I meet people who have trusted Christ for their salvation, but have no specific church affiliation. Sometimes I do tend to pigeon-hole people because it helps me better connect them to resources that are suitable to their background. But when there is no church with which they are connected I feel they are missing out on so many good things. Fellowship (both on Sunday and throughout the week). Corporate Prayer (joining with others in awareness of world needs). Intercessors (people praying for them as they have a need). Corporate Giving (supporting the local church as well as worldwide missions). Corporate Worship (in words and music). Communion (aka The Eucharist or Lord’s Table). Oral proclamation (hearing God’s Word proclaimed aloud in sermon or homily).
Most important however, is that I feel that joining with others keeps us on track. In both of Paul’s letters to Timothy he warns that “some have wandered from the faith.” This is often the case when we try to follow Christ in a vacuum when Christianity was meant to be practiced, using an analogy, as parts of a body. The summer is a great time to re-enter church life.
So how do you understand assurance of eternal life?
Paul Wilkinson owns Searchlight Christian Books and is editor of Christianity 201, a daily online devotional.