How resurrection lies at the heart of the Christian faith
For millions of Christians throughout the world, Easter is a time for reassurance and renewal.
The popular media view in Northern Europe of Christianity is that of a dwindling religion under attack from secularists in the West and from extremists of other faiths elsewhere, but this is not the whole picture. Christian churches of all denominations are flourishing in the developing world, as I have noted in many of my recent travels.
In Rwanda, for example, the churches are playing a major role in helping to transform a society which is rebuilding national togetherness after the horrors of the 1994 genocide during which more than one million people were slaughtered in only 100 days.
I spoke to a friend there in January this year, and he told me that the churches in Rwanda are still trusted and respected by up to 95% of the population.
Nearer home there is also good news about encouraging changes in the pattern of church life. The numbers are falling in some of the older established denominations, but there is a remarkable growth of membership in other churches.
During the recent meeting of the Irish Council of Churches in Londonderry/Derry to mark the UK City of Culture 2013, I noticed that the membership now contains not only the Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches but members of the Reformed, Independent, Orthodox and migrant-led churches as well.
One of the newest members is the Redeemed Christian Church of God, which is the largest migrant-led church in Ireland with more than 15,000 members. Indeed, the current president of the ICC is a member of the Romanian Orthodox Church.
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Quite recently, First Church of Christ Scientist in Belfast sold its beautiful building just behind Queen's University to the Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ) which is based in the Philippines.
This church was established in 1914 and has some 27 million members in more than 5,600 congregations worldwide. A local branch was established in Belfast in 1988/89 with only seven people, and now has several hundred members in Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, First Christian Science Church in Belfast, which is part of a worldwide church with headquarters in Boston, remains very active and is currently planning to move into new premises here. So there should be no surprise that church renewal continues to take place among all denominations on a worldwide scale, because renewal and resurrection lies at the heart of the Christian faith.
The central figure, of course, is Jesus who many sincere people respect as a remarkable human being, but nothing more than that. I cannot agree with this view, because if He had been only a good man, then Christianity itself would not have survived throughout more than 2,000 turbulent years.
CS Lewis put it like this: "A man who was merely a man and said the things Jesus said wouldn't be a great moral teacher. He'd be either insane, or else he'd be the devil in hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God, or else insane or something worse. But don't let's come up with any patronising nonsense about his being 'a great human teacher.' He hasn't left that open to us. He didn't intend to.
"Now, it seems to me obvious that he was neither insane nor a fiend. And consequently, however strange, or terrifying, or unlikely, it may seem, I have to accept the view that he was, and is, the Son of God."
In other words he really is Jesus the Christ. That's good enough for me this Easter weekend, or at any other time. So let's hail this time of renewal and reassurance.