The Christian Union of Balliol College Oxford has been banned from the Freshers Fair because of fears about the impact Christianity could have on the lives of freshers. It sounds like they’ve been doing an excellent job.
Balliol College Oxford JCR, the body that represents students, has reportedly banned the college Christian Union from having representatives at this year’s ‘Freshers’ Fair’. The reason given was the fear of ‘potential harm to freshers’. Cherwell, the Oxford student newspaper, reported the president of the JCR as explaining that ‘Historically, Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.’
So is Christianity damaging? The implication is that Christianity has an agenda which will, if permitted, ruin your life. Isn’t that a little overblown? Surely Christianity is something warm and welcoming, which comforts, encourages, and affirms people?
Well, yes it is. More profoundly so than anything else in the world. It is not for nothing that one classic statement of the Christian worldview, the Heidelberg Catechism, begins with the question, ‘What is your only comfort in life and death?’. Christianity – knowing as our Father the one true God through his son-become-man Jesus Christ in the power of his Holy Spirit – is the sweetest, most glorious, most welcoming comfort that this world affords.
But that doesn’t mean that Christianity won’t harm you. When the Balliol JCR observed that Christianity has the potential to damage the lives of freshers, they are demonstrating that they have really heard something of what the gospel of Jesus Christ is. Given that the Christian Union’s aim is ‘giving every student in Oxford University the chance to hear and respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ’, it sounds like they are doing an excellent job.
Because Jesus brings comfort, peace, joy and contentment not by affirming what we already are, but by nothing less than destroying what we already are and making us new from the bottom up. Jesus came to ruin our lives, so that he can then rebuild them. Here’s what he said:
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:34-36)
Jesus calls people to follow him. And following Jesus is not a comfortable thing at all, for he is going to Jerusalem where certain death on a cross awaits him. What he calls people to do is to accept the destruction of our lives, just as he did.
The Balliol JCR president apparently realises that this is what Christianity requires of some people. When he hears that Jesus requires those who identify as LGBT to surrender their desires and their identity, in such a dramatic way that it will feel to them like he wants to ruin their lives, he has not misheard. Jesus does require that of them. But he is wrong to think that this demand is limited to some ‘marginalised groups’. Jesus demands it of everyone. All, without exception, must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him to death.
Why? Because although Christians must follow Jesus to the grave, they don’t stop there. He had just announced his full future itinerary:
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)
Jesus was going to die, and then rise again to new life. It was planned and deliberate. And he did it so that we can follow him. He would surrender his life here so that he could be raised to a far more glorious life the other side of the grave. And he call us to follow him, through death, to share his resurrection life. To leave our old selves dead in the grave and to become the wholly new poeple that he will make us.
That is his call to everyone, all human beings the world over, Balliol freshers included. Jesus wants to give us new life, real life, resurrection life. But for that to happen we need to die. The route to life is the destruction of life as you know it.
For we are not, naturally, beautiful snowflakes in need of protection and preservation and celebration. We are, rather, a desperate mess of mistaken ideas, distorted desires, damaged faculties, and false identities. So Jesus came to redeem us; to destroy what we currently are and to remake us as true likenesses of God. That’s why he didn’t just announce good news; he said everyone must ‘repent and believe the good news’.
To repent is nothing less than to accept the destruction of your life as you know it. We have to surrender all the ideas we had about reality. We have to give up on following the desires of our hearts. We have to stop believing that our mental and emotional faculties are intact and dependable and to be valued as they are. We have to walk away from all the things – racial, emotional, sexual and intellectual – on which we previously hung our identity. In sum, the whole complex of what I thought made me ‘me’ has to be surrendered and left behind as we follow Jesus on the road to the cross. He asks for nothing less than the total destruction of what we are. We have, he said, to lose our life for his sake, if we want to find it.
And when we do that, we find that the other side of this death lies life. Real life. Resurrection life. Whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake and the gospel’s will save it. That is what Jesus came to do for us. Here is the apostle Paul:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Jesus redeems. He sets us free from the destruction sin has worked on us and in us. He delivers us from the guilt of our past and the hopelessness of our present. When we surrender what we thing we are, he makes us into what we were always meant to be. Here there is true comfort. Here there is true satisfaction. Here we find our true identity. Jesus gives us a new heart, to love other people truly, to love his laws, which previously we despised, and most of all to love him, who made us for himself.
That is why Christianity offers a comfort, peace and welcome like nothing else on earth. Let’s see the answer to that first question of the Heidelberg Catechism:
What is your only comfort in life and death?
A: That I, with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful saviour Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.
It is only in the entire surrender of our lives, body and soul, to the rightful possession of the living God are we able to enter into his glorious redemption and eternal loving care.
Can Christianity harm you? More than you can possibly imagine. Because Jesus came to destroy us in our proud belief in ourselves, so that he can remake us as true images of, and the treasured possessions of, the living God, forever. Lose your life for his sake and the gospel’s, and you will find it.