I went round to Matt’s place last night and asked him to tell me some more about his Christian religion. He gave me a strange look.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, a little nervously.
“Well,” he said, “the thing is … I don’t consider that I have a religion.”
“Of course you do, Matt. You go to church, don’t you?”
He nodded slowly.
“Yes, I do. But if by ‘religion’ you mean a set of rules, regulations and rituals – that’s not what my faith’s about.”
“Oh?” I said. “Then what is it all about?”
“I haven’t got a religion – I’ve got a relationship. It’s a relationship with God – Allah, in your terminolog.”
I was puzzled now.
“But the Christian Bible tells you what to do and what you mustn’t do, doesn’t it?”
“I think,” he said, “I need to explain a bit more about the Bible. You know already that it isn’t just one book – it’s sixty-six separate books, all bound up together. The first part’s the Old Testament. A lot of that is the rules and regulations which were given to the Israelites, but which they couldn’t keep. The second part – what we call the New Testament – is partly biography and partly good advice. Four books of the Bible cover the life of Jesus as recorded by four different men who were with him at the time. And it’s Jesus who gave us those two rules I told you about – love God with all your heart, and love your neighbour as yourself.”
“And what about the good advice?” I asked.
“There’s plenty of that,” he said. “But we aren’t given instructions on what to do in every situation because, as you can imagine, Palestine two thousand years ago was culturally and socially a very different place to what Hoxton is today. So, instead, we’re given general principles which it’s our responsibility to apply to our own particular situation.”
“But doesn’t that lead to anarchy?”
“No,” said Matt, “because we’re also given the Holy Spirit to guide us. He’s holy, so he’ll only guide us in ways that are holy themselves. And he’s a spirit, so he can’t be seen or felt, except in our hearts. If we’re ever unsure whether it’s the Holy Spirit guiding us, or simply our own ideas, we need remember that the Holy Spirit would never contradict those general principles laid down in the Bible.”
I thought for a minute.
“So how does the Holy Spirit come to people, Matt?”
“He’s Person – dealing with people. He treats each one of them as an individual. He comes to each person in the way that’s most appropriate for them. That’s why it’s different for everybody. But all they need to do is ask – and expect an answer.”
“Is the Holy Spirit God, Matt?”
“Yes,” he said, “but there is only one God and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God.”