• What Really Matters
What Really Matters
Outreach Letters

What Really Matters

  • What Really Matters

What Really Matters

There exists, in England, a social grouping popularly known as ‘Sloane Rangers’, the name deriving from the Sloane Square area of London where many of the upper strata of society maintain their London residences.

Sloanes, as they are commonly called, are never made. They are born. Neither money nor success can qualify one for membership in this social elite, for being a Sloane is first and foremost a matter of breeding. If you are not born into the right family, you can never really be one of them.

The Sloane Ranger Handbook – an amusing and entertaining book on the subject – claims that one vital attribute of Sloanes is that they always know something called WRM, or What Really Matters. WRM comes from the Sloanes’ social breeding and privileged upbringing which has instilled into them that which lesser mortals can never possess, however much they try. When one is blessed with the knowledge of What Really Matters – whether in social behaviour, dress or one hundred and one other aspects of life – one belongs and one knows it.

My purpose here is not, of course, to write about Sloane Rangers – and I certainly have no desire to dwell on the Sloane philosophy, real or imagined, of WRM. What I really want to do is borrow the term and get to my point, which is: do Christians know What Really Matters?

Sloanes aside (or included, as the case may be) the most truly elite people on earth should be God’s people – those who are known as ‘born again believers’. It follows then that they, of all people, should know What Really Matters. Many appear to … but do they?

The greatest conflict Jesus had, and the one which ultimately got Him crucified, was not with those who did not know and knew it, but with those who did not know but were sure they did.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had precisely figured out what did and did not matter. They had the Law and the Prophets, they had their knowledge and their traditions, and with them they had formed a powerful, pervasive and potent civil and religious system. The trouble was, Jesus had a very different approach and outlook, yet He was the very epitome of What Really Mattered… to God anyway. And isn’t that what really matters?

That which Jesus proclaimed, represented and embodied did not fit in with the religious system of His day, any more than What Really Matters to God fits in with the religious systems of our day.

Those of us who have been involved in the contemporary Evangelical/Fundamental/Charismatic scene, well know the pride in knowledge and experience which pervades it. Knowing the Lord, knowing the Bible, knowing God’s ways. Experiencing God’s gifts and blessings. How smug, secure and deceived the adherents of such a system can soon become.

The unsaved or uninitiated are viewed as THEM, in contrast to US – the saved and blessed who, of course, know WRM. Or do we?

Christianity today consists largely of a vast plethora of rules, regulations, traditions, beliefs and doctrines. One qualifies not so much by relationship as by rigid agreement and careful conformity.

Though the original architects of this parody of the way of Jesus have long ago passed on, there has never been any lack of ‘men of God’ eager to fill their shoes. And all of them, past and present, stand accused with the same accusation voiced by Jesus against their forefathers: ‘They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them!’

Consider the way the Early Church dealt with attempts to impose a burdensome religious system upon its members. Churches had no sooner begun to sprout in one place after another than the inevitable took place. There rose up a group who decided they knew better than Jesus’ apostles. They were ‘learned’, they were ‘devout’, they were Jews and, more to the point, they were itching to impose on the new Gentile converts a crushing burden of Judaistic religious teaching and tradition.

These men were militant in their efforts to Judaise the new Gentile Christians. (Many missionaries of the past couple of centuries have actually surpassed them in this, having succeeded in not only loading people up with the burden of a religious system, but also of imposing on them an alien culture. (Thus was coined the saying: ‘God is an Englishman’ – only to be superseded in more recent times by the assumption that He is, after all an American.)

So much confusion did those first century Judaisers create that the leaders of the fledgling Christian Church convened at Jerusalem to deal with the matter. The conclusion of their deliberations was remarkable in its simplicity and revolutionary in its implications. Not only did it stand then in total contrast to the legalism of the Judaisers, but it is equally dismissive of much of today’s complex Christianity.

The letter which those early apostles and elders circulated to all the churches, following their conference, included this explicit summary of their conclusions: ‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.’

Amazing isn’t it? Those Early Church fathers surveyed their multitude of new converts – a ‘mixed multitude’ if ever there was one – then handed them, not even ten commandments, but just four necessary rules. That’s all. Beyond that, they were trusted to live God-pleasing lives without the strictures of religions conformity.

One of the great characteristics of Jesus’ ministry was His utter simplicity. While scribes, theologians and learned men laboured to lay down and interpret God’s ways, weaving an increasingly complex web as they went, Jesus cut through it all. He spoke to ordinary people about ordinary things yet, at the same time, He revealed to them profound truths which none of their ‘holy men’ had even begun to understand.

One of those men, Nicodemus, was stirred, fascinated, and probably moved too, by Jesus’ ministry. He had to find out more. This man was both a product and a prisoner of the system of which he was now a leader – as is evidenced by his approach to Jesus under cover of darkness and by the way their conversation went that night.

For His part, Jesus was in no hurry to accord Nicodemus the awed respect to which he was accustomed – nor was he impressed by the learned teacher’s attempt to endorse His ministry. When Nicodemus pointed to Jesus’ miracles as proof that He was a man sent from God, Jesus brushed that aside and pointed him instead to WRM. He told this man, who placed his trust in religious observance, that unless he was born again by God’s Spirit he would not see the Kingdom of God. When Nicodemus derisively retorted: ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!’, Jesus was not impressed. ‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ He hurled back, ‘and do you not understand these things?’

While Nicodemus scoffed at Jesus’ irrational simplicity, the Son of God had no patience with the theologian’s cynicism. You see, Jesus knew What Really Mattered, because He represented God. Whereas Nicodemus was merely accustomed to assuming he knew because he represented the system.

Not that I expect many Christians to argue against the beautiful simplicity of the new birth. But why oh why then is that simplicity, which is so readily applied by so many to entering God’s kingdom, not also applied to living in that kingdom?

When I, as a naive seventeen year old, opened my heart to Jesus at a Billy Graham crusade twenty-nine years ago, it was the end of a search. I had previously sought Him within the church of my birth, where He was so buried beneath form, ritual and superstition as to be unreachable. That would hardly surprise the average evangelical Christian who, I am sure, would applaud the simplicity of my conversion when compared to the complexity of my search.

The events which soon followed, however, were a different story. It was not long before I found myself immersed in a whole new world – the Christian world. A world in which acceptance was strongly linked to observance of the Christian version of WRM.

There was jargon to learn, protocol to observe, things I was supposed to like and other things I was definitely not supposed to like. Some of the 1959 WRM drill went like this:

Pray every day.
Read your Bible every day.
Witness at every opportunity.
Tithe ten percent.
Keep the Sabbath.
Don’t swear.
Don’t smoke.
Don’t drink.
Don’t go to movies.
Don’t go to dances.

And those ‘ten commandments’ were just for starters, for there was often much more implied than there was spelt out. The Christian straitjacket began to entwine itself around me and I soon found that my individualism – that God-given uniqueness which each of us possesses – became a hindrance to my ‘Christianisation’. Though being born again had indeed been a liberating beginning, I soon found that being squeezed into the Christian mold was What Really Mattered.

I sometimes wonder how many people, less resilient or determined than I, have either spent their lives permanently imprisoned within the Christian system’s version of WRM or have, alternately, fallen by the wayside because they could not fit into that man-made mold. I’ve certainly known a few in both categories.

So, what does really matter to God? It matters to Him that you love Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. It matters to Him that you love your neighbour as yourself, It also matters to Him that the expression of those two great loves results in a body of people who really do live wonderful, liberated, self-giving, God-centred lives. Not because they have become prisoners of some Christianised religious system but because they have found God, found love, found one another and, in so doing, have found that their highest fulfilment is in living in love with Him and with each other.

This is not an invitation to indulgence or carnality. Far from it. It is a call to walk in the Way of Jesus, as against the way of the man-made Christian System. His way is the way of liberty and love. It is the way He lived and it is the way He calls us to live.

Jesus truly is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and His desire is to gather His people together and to lead them in His way.

THAT’S What Really Matters.