“Jesus is the reason for the season goes” the saying, and getting to know Jesus is the purpose of this Lenten series – and Lent itself is a tool to remind us of Jesus, to reacquaint us with His story, to help us reconsider our lives – dare I say repent – and to choose to follow His path to the Cross.
There’s a lot to Christianity, and a lot that people who are into Christianity argue about. And so I’ve been talking a lot of theology, philosophy, history, science and more; but all that can be overwhelming if you’re unfamiliar with it – heck, it can be overwhelming if you ARE familiar with it.
So how can you get started with Christianity?
First off, Jesus saves if you believe in him; so learning about Jesus is a start on the right path. Next, find a Christian church whose creed speaks to you: this list is by church size, so the search [church near me] is likely to find one; I recommend you go to an [episcopal church near me] on the next available Sunday.
Why? Well, these are the first three theological steps on the road to becoming a Christian. First is awareness: you need to know about Jesus first. Second is belief: it’s not enough just to know him, but to believe in him. And third is worship – but not just individually; communal worship, worship with others.
This is really important. Jesus didn’t just preach on a mountaintop, though He certainly did that. He gathered apostles and sent out disciples who built communities. He once said “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them,” which is why many believe it’s important to worship together.
If you’re learning about Jesus, and you’re gathering with others trying to learn about Jesus, then the Holy Spirit can guide you the right way. I recommend a church you’re comfortable with to reduce distractions like disagreements over doctrine, but I also recommend a Christian church focused on Jesus.
“Look, Centaur, can you actually just tell me how to get started without opening my phone book?” “What, you guys still use phone books?” Oh, nevermind – if you want me to summarize, sure, hey, I can do that. I’ve already told you the three most important practical steps. Now, epistemological, or, what’s up?
Surely you’ve felt at some point a presence larger than yourself, be it the simple recognition that the room or outdoor place that you’re in is bigger than you are, or be it a deep internal experience, hard to quantify, of something to the world that’s more than what you see and feel.
To Christians, this realization is the first step on the path to realize we exist in a Creation made by God. We don’t mean this in the sense of a scientific explanation, as you have to take it on faith; but we do mean it as a fact: you live in a world where God has to exist, and is the only thing that has to exist.
God is the “ground of being,” the logical foundation of existence, and everything else – including you – is something contingent upon God – something He created – a part of “Creation,” which God designed to fulfill His purpose. So the fact is, if you want to do well in the world, you should be aligned with His will.
Now, we suck at that. Traditional Christians chalk this up to the Fall of Adam and Original Sin; I think it’s a inevitable consequence of God wanting us to choose Him freely, given the limitations of finite agents acting as partially ordered Markov decision processes. But, tl;dr: we depart from his will. We sin.
Traditional Christians think God is infinitely good, and created an just universe; and in a just universe, sin needs to be punished – departing from God’s will should have an inevitable consequence. But it sucks to blame limited finite creatures for failing to follow the perfect designs of an infinite unlimited God.
So it seems like God put Himself in a bind. Greek philosopher Epicurius argued if God is good then evil should not exist, but Christian theology inverts this: arguing about a mythical disembodied “evil” diverts attention from our personal role creating evil through sin, which logically a good God should punish.
Fortunately, God gave Himself an out: Jesus. God, in Christian theology, is one singular “being” existing out of and prior to time and space. But God exists, or is perceived by human beings to exist, in the form of three persons: Father, Son, Holy Ghost, sometimes said: Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier.
In abstract terms, the Creator made the world, but it could not be made perfect just by a sterile act of creation. The Redeemer fixed the flaws of the world by acting in it to perfect it, and the Sanctifier continues to act in the world to bring people closer to the Creator through the Redeemer.
In concrete terms, God the Father may have made the universe and us, but either we screwed it up or free will requires it to be screwable. To un-screw it, God the Son came to Earth as a human being, providing an example and taking on our punishment, sending the God the Spirit to guide us after.
In religious terms, Jesus is both divine and human – He’s the incarnation of God trying to fix the world and take responsibility for our punishments. Jesus not only provided us instructions on how to live in life, and a concrete example of how to live through His life, He took on our punishment on the Cross.
Theologians call this the “superabundant merits” of Jesus’s unjust crucifixion: the extralegal, unjust, torturous execution of an innocent man who was actually on a mission from God was not just enough to wipe out the sins of the world, but to wipe out the sins of everyone for all time.
But in practical terms, it means Jesus, acting on behalf of – acting as – God, took on responsibility for the punishment that we might be owed for any sins we committed by not following His will, and further, took on the responsibility of showing us an example of a good life and teaching us how to live that life.
After Jesus returned to the Father, He sent the Holy Spirit – He sent another aspect of Himself – to help guide us. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit woke up Jesus’s apostles, turning them from scared followers hiding after the gruesome execution of their leader into bold preachers of His word, unafraid of death.
That transformation is available to all of us. Learn more about Jesus, attend worship at the Christian church of your choice, read a translation of the Bible you understand – I recommend the Oxford Annotated Bible and the Interlinear, but there’s also The Message in contemporary language.
But the Bible is long. The short version is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” and John 13:34: “I am giving a new commandment to you now—love each other just as much as I love you.”
Pull on those threads, take a look at the Lord’s Prayer, the Nicene Creed, and the Sermon on the Mount, and remember you must combine all three legs of the stool – Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, all of which have equal roles to play building our understanding – and you’re well on your way.
Or, put another way, try to follow Jesus.
Pictured: Allegedly, Epicurus.