This is just intended to be a short post as a precursor to a forthcoming article on what I mean when I talk about priests and also why I don’t refer to members of the clergy as such. That post is getting quite long, so I wanted to use this to clear a little ground first. So with that in mind, you might want to revisit this after the priest post has been published.
I have occasionally heard/read some criticism by the use of (predominantly) evangelical christians using the phrase “invite Jesus into your heart” as the means by which one becomes a christian. Much of this criticism is fair, I think, but there’s a little more to it than meets the eye.
The main arguments against its use are as follows:
1) Such a phrase is never used in the bible.
2) It is highly simplistic.
While both of these are true, I would argue that they are not the whole truth of the matter. Rather, the phrase is a summary of a much more sophisticated theology, which I shall attempt to enunciate: When Jesus was crucified, Matthew’s gospel records that the curtain in the temple was torn in two. This is highly symbolic as the curtain was an emblem of the separation of God and mankind. So its destruction, in symbolic terms, said that Jesus’ crucifixion was the act that meant God and mankind were to be reconciled.
Prior to this, Jesus had caused a rumpus in the temple by overturning the tables and throwing out the money-changers. Some regard this as a cleansing of the temple, though others regard it as a parable acted out denoting the destruction of the temple. If we are to accept the second theory (c.f. Mark 13:1,2) then the implication is that the temple was no longer needed. It was more than a prediction of its historical destruction in A.D. 70; it was a declaration that the purpose for which it stood was now redundant.
What was that purpose? It was the symbolic home of God on earth. It was never a literal dwelling (c.f. 1 Kings 8:27, 2 Chronicles 2:6, 6:18, Acts 7:48, 17:24) so it shouldn’t be taken as anything remotely mystical. So if the temple was now redundant, what replaced it?
The short answer is us. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2: 1-13) filled each person individually with the spirit. They were now the figurative dwelling places of God on earth. So instead of one temple situated in Jerusalem, there would now be a multitude of temples walking across the earth. Or rather, to be less individualistic, there are multiple parts of the temple wandering the planet.
This is expanded upon by Paul in some of his writings. Take, for example, Ephesians 2:19-22. Here, he uses the image of the church to be the new temple. In 1 Corinthians 3:16,17 the same metaphor is used. Though, it seems clear that the message here is for the whole church. 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, however, seems much more aimed at the individual, which was a topic I touched on recently, so as to not have the discussion on individualism here.
Most christians I think would agree with me when I say that salvation (note, I have not defined precisely what this means, for now, I confess to being a little fuzzy in my terminology) comes about through faith in Jesus as Lord. Now, there may be many aspects to this which are worth exploring and indeed, as stated recently, I am pursuing one of these lines of enquiry at the moment. This is why there is an emphasis on the person of Jesus, whose action is history is more readily grasped (if not with complete ease) than discussions of the more tricky notion of ‘God’.
So by stating that we are “inviting Jesus into our hearts” we are making a declaration that we wish to become a part of the new temple, filled with the Holy Spirit. We are trusting that Jesus’ death was a once-and-for-all substitutionary sacrifice for our ‘sins’ (or perhaps, for being ‘sinners’). This step of faith is very much an inward action. The follow up to this is much more public where, as an act of obedience, we are to be baptised, which in itself is a highly symbolic act, which is why in the majority of churches, it is accompanied with a testimony of how that person came to be a christian, though I admit that this latter part is not a biblical imperative; it is merely helpful for the person being baptised and for those in attendance.
Of course, there is an obvious weakness to my argument, which I freely admit. That is, how much of this is necessarily understood by the person making the step of faith? I would argue that the basic tenets of christianity need not be over-complicated. Acts 2:39 makes it clear that from the outset, the gospel was to be accessible to all. You don’t have to have a full grasp of all the details before setting out. That can, and should, come later. For example, you don’t have to know all the details about an internal combustion engine before learning to drive. Later on, some understanding of mechanics may help when the car starts spluttering.
I know that I have used a lot of terms here that I have not defined well and may appear rather religious. This is probably a by-product from having, for the most part, grown up in church, surrounded by the terminology. In due course, I may try and hone some of these terms to make them less religious, thus making them more accessible. But I hope I have been reasonably clear. Let me know if you agree or disagree; this could be a fascinating discussion.