by Tony Copple
Tony sharing a testimony at a Catch the Fire Ottawa event to Pastor Steve Long
I was brought up in a nominally Christian protestant family and attended a primary school where I learned about the Trinity, heaven, hell and Satan at the age of 5. It all made a big impression. Sadly the impression had faded by the time I went up to university and in my first year there I lost my faith (such as it was) completely. Looking back, what I lost was any belief in a spiritual world. If I couldn’t see or touch it, it didn’t exist. Up till that point I hadn’t read or heard any of the Bible other than sermons in chapel services. To my mind, my new atheism was logical and fitted my world view. I wasn’t an atheist evangelist; I seldom thought about religion, or met anyone who did. I believed I knew all there was to know about Christianity, just by my own thought experiments, conducted without any form of evidence.
Around age 35, a number of Christians and Christian experiences started influencing me. My (then) wife was Christian and went to church regularly, and I joined her at Christmas and Easter. Then for some reason I started going to a local church and was asked to run a Sunday school group for teenagers, which was very stressful because they really weren’t interested and I wasn’t a good teacher. The fact that I was asked to do this shows only that the pastor didn’t vet me, assuming that because I was reasonably articulate and attended church, I was qualified. Because I was going to church, even I believed I was a Christian.
Occasionally I saw or met people for whom their Christian faith was extremely important to them, but I saw them as fanatics, to be avoided. When I went to a Billy Graham crusade in Norwich in January 1984 and he invited people wanting to know more to come forward onto the pitch, I didn’t go, believing I was mature in my faith and certainly not a fanatic (I was unknowingly religious but not yet a Christian). I started seeing adverts in London for Luis Palau, but they didn’t say anything about him – just created curiosity. Then I saw a TV show where he appeared, and I liked him – not a fanatic at all. I decided to attend one of his events in London. That evening - 19 June 1984 - changed my life forever.
37 years later, I know what happened, since I know vastly more about the faith than I did then. It was Jesus through the Holy Spirit wanting to come into my life, and I said yes. I actually said ‘Yes, yes please.’ I wanted fellowship with others in the same boat, so I called the Luis Palau HQ and asked them what I should do next. They said I should join a home group, and gave me an address. That was the start of what has been a thrilling journey of faith. In 1999, I married Laurie-Ann, for 11 years a convinced Christian, and she has since then been a wonderful mentor; having earned an Mdiv degree, (as well as a BA in religious studies and sociology) qualifying her to pastor a church, at least in pastoral care and outreach. We have been trained in numbers of aspects of Christianity, and taken some leadership roles, notably with the Alpha course (and later with Iris Global's missionary Harvest School).
Over the years I have developed my understanding of what Christianity is. It is common today – and I concur- to say that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship with Christ, who said that he was the solution for our lives, but should we place anything or anyone above him in importance we could not enter his kingdom. This wasn’t a threat; it is the truth. 35 years ago when I began studying the Bible it seemed to be a collection of history and sociology, and the biography of an amazing individual. Today I see it more as a living organism, with every verse being like a collection of molecules in DNA, so that the whole describes a very complex collection of information about God’s purpose and thoughts in designing us – an extraordinary experiment – and how well it is working out in the face of continual opposition. In this article I am attempting to list some key aspects of Christianity which seem undeniable to me and might help others speed up their own exploration of spiritual matters.
So in this treatise on why I believe, let me start with the Bible. This will alienate some readers, who don’t believe in the Bible and it has no authority for them. But a study of the Bible shows it to be a book like no other; in fact much more than a book. I have re-read very few books in my life. The Bible is different. Almost every verse has the potential for multiple sermons to be preached about the depth of its meaning. Every Sunday world-wide, thousands of preachers are doing just that as they expound on the meaning.
The stories and statements (particularly by Jesus) are extraordinary, and counter-intuitive, and often cannot be understood without significant study. Muslims often quote such stories in attempts to discredit Christianity. The Bible is like the myriad of functionalities within the human brain, all interconnected and communicating so that the whole brain, if healthy, can control the body and program the mind. On the nuances between verses in the Bible hang concepts on which a civilization can depend. Verses I have read and thought about multiple times will be shown to have yet another meaning or focus by a preacher who has received a revelation about it, and from that moment I, and others will see this new significance. Verses I know well will all of a sudden seem to show new meanings and significance to me. The final verse in the book of Judges, “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes” is the explanation for all the godless people living in history, right up to terrorism today. It makes the point that atrocious behaviour by some was not seen by them to be atrocious, but necessary and justifiable. Without ethical leadership, the people decide what is right. The Bible laid down the standards of right and wrong in the 10 commandments which have shaped the constitutions of countries and judiciaries ever since. By the time of Solomon, the experiences of multiple generations in applying these principles gave rise to hundreds of best practices which Solomon collated in to the book of Proverbs. To this day, we don’t quarrel with the wisdom in Proverbs. In the previous generation, Solomon’s father King David, who had a powerful relationship with God, had described that relationship in music and lyrics in the book of Psalms, which are sung today and form the material for many contemporary Christian songs.
The Bible is not squeamish. In its earnestness to articulate the awfulness of sin, it pulls no punches in describing the heinous acts by whole generations of people without moral leadership, some of who had known the guidance of a faith in God handed down from the patriarchs. If we think such things are hard to read about, imagine the heartbreak suffered by our creator God. No wonder he rebooted the whole experiment with the flood, and destroyed nations that stood in the way of his plans for his Kingdom on earth, as it is in Heaven, nations whose people rejected the one true God. In Leviticus and other early books, he laid down the laws of what was clean to eat and what punishments were appropriate for evil doers. These rules were necessary in those days, but many were dispensed with by Jesus. Sadly, ignorance of God’s plans and their realization has promoted a whole movement of anti-Christians who point to Old Testament beliefs and customs as reasons to reject the whole Bible, Jesus, and his teachings. Is it possible that such a book could have been the brainchild of 40 men and women independently recording memories and ideas? Or is it not more likely that they shared the same source of inspiration enabling them to record with high accuracy the details of events from their pasts, often decades before?
Just as one good miracle is worth months of good teaching for an evangelist in converting people to the faith, so it is with prophecy. The Bible is full of predictions of the future, particularly statements from the Old Testament referring to the Messiah in the New Testament. It was these hundreds of fulfilled prophecies that first opened my eyes to the divine inspiration behind the whole Bible. How else could these be explained? Some, such as Isaiah 53 are so explicit, they appear as if written after the events they describe, rather than 700 years before.
Today I see the Bible as a collection of precious information, handed down to us though the endeavours of forgotten monks who devoted their lives to hand-copying it for posterity. No other holy book covers history from creation to the future to come. The writing and the preservation of the Gospels by men with no significant education, cast out by the Jewish establishment, is a miracle of accurate memory over decades. That we have Paul’s letters verbatim is a vast treasure, and the timeless wisdom contained in them is miraculous/Holy Spirit at work. No system of thought is as wise as the Bible. It is God's download showing us how to live in a world of challenges, relevant to this day and for the future. Some of it, eg Proverbs, brings us the best of ancient experience. But the most powerful parts of the Bible are the words of Jesus and the statements of those who knew him.
To be continued…
Tony and Laurie-Ann Copple (usually Laurie-Ann)
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