The Proof of the Pudding
by Paul Walker
Having done a little work with Muslims recently I have been
struck by how they can interpret their laws so differently. As a result we
see the many ways people live out an Islamic faith. Likewise Jewish people
interpret the Talmud differently and so we see groups of orthodox,
conservative and liberal Jews, each divided into sub-groups.
The divisions of both Jews and Muslims arise out of the various ways
divine law is interpreted.
Some Christians look at this and smugly imagine that they are not the
same. "We live by grace, not law," say Christians. We as Christians do not
get hung up about precisely how to keep Sabbath or about dietary laws. St
Paul is quoted that "All things are permissible." Stories are drawn from
the gospels relating to Pharisees and other Jewish lawyers seeming to be
And yet, as a matter of fact, many Christians are even more legalistic
- not about how to behave, but about what to believe.
Let us for a moment consider definitions of a Christian. Almost all
depend not on lifestyle but on belief system. "Are you a Trinitarian?" is
a typical question. As far as I can work it out, you can read your Bible
every day, pray for several hours, and attempt with every atom of your
being to live as Jesus taught. But if you do not believe in the Trinity,
in three persons "consubstantial, co-eternal", you are not a Christian
according to most churches.
If we imagine that this is irrelevant, let us for a moment consider
During the Third Reich an embarrassing number of churches fully
accepted Hitler�s doctrines. Frighteningly few Christians spoke out
against the genocide taking place under their noses. Most blessed the
soldiers fighting for their fatherland.
And yet one group of religious people, who believed themselves to be
acting as directed by Jesus, were persecuted because of their absolute
pacifism. You might expect Christians to be proud of such a group, whose
faith was such that thousands of them perished in the gas chambers for
And yet we rarely, if ever, hear anything about these people because -
they were Jehovah�s Witnesses.
Increasingly the message that the churches are today giving to the
media seems to be that all that matters is what you believe. So we see
churches apparently trying to rehabilitate paedophile priests, while
shunning those who have taught liberation theology. Similarly, in Britain
a man was recently prevented from being a bishop, not because of his
homosexual practice in the past, but because he refused to condemn that
In other churches it is argued that your faith depends entirely on
whether or not you have given your life to Jesus regardless, for example,
of how wealthy you are. Your entry into heaven is dependant upon a
decision made with your mind, even though Jesus taught that a fat wallet
would prevent your entry.
This problem has dogged Christianity since its early days. Instead of
reading the gospels and asking ourselves "What should I do?" Christians
have asked "What should I believe?"
Hence a Muslim is a person who keeps the five pillars of Islam, that is
who declares his or faith, prays five times a day, fasts during Ramadan,
gives a proportion of their income to charity, and attempts once in their
life to go on the Haj. A Jew is a person who keeps the Law, however
A Christian, on the other hand, is a person who believes the Nicene
Creed. I wonder which of these impresses God the most.