England, where I was born and raised, is bursting with grand stories of historical adventures and oddities.
But as a young man, history as an area of study was too disconnected from my own adventures (and oddities) to be of any interest.
As I began to read more widely, I discovered that for many, history itself was meaningless anyway – a random collection of individual or national ambitions, subjugations, selfishness and wars – a heap of broken images.
What’s He got to do with anything?
Then something personal and radical happened in my life. A friend of mine, to my surprise, declared that he had become a Christian and asserted that Christianity was true. Obviously, I knew he was wrong, but with a concern for his welfare and some curiosity, I began a conversation with him.
In an attempt to change his mind, I asked him for the books the Christians had given him and was fully convinced that, by studying them carefully, I would discover the inconsistencies and contradictions I assumed were there. This would help him come back to the real world.
He gave me the Gospel of John. John was a fisherman who became a follower of Christ, one of the ‘Disciples’. I set aside James Joyce’s Ulysses, which I was about to begin, and worked my way carefully through the fisherman’s book.
The Bible is Unreliable – somebody somewhere said so!
I was a non-churchgoing, post-modern atheist, deeply suspicious of organised religion and thoroughly sceptical about the authenticity and reliability of the Bible. I was dismissive of Christian truth claims but tolerant of other faiths and thus considered myself objective. And, if there was such a thing, I would have unashamedly declared myself a ‘sinner’!
But John’s Gospel took me by surprise.
I think, honestly, it was the first time I had actually considered anything in connection with Christianity outside of the context of ‘dialogue’, or arguments with evangelising Christians. I had naturally taken the role of an opponent during the few encounters I had with them.
This time it was just me and a book! And that was helpful for me.
Learning to listen
Firstly, I stopped preparing my objections in advance and actually considered what I was reading (I was doing this very carefully because I was hunting for contradictions, the discovery of which would release my friend from his delusion).
Secondly, the Gospel of John brought me away from the usual arguments (evolution/abortion/lifestyle choices etc.) and ushered me into a kind of front-row seat before this extraordinary person Jesus.
Don’t misunderstand me, those issues were always the ones I raised when arguing with Christians, and they were important to me – but I had not heard Jesus in quite this way.
Who ever spoke the way this man speaks?
The things Jesus said, as I read John’s gospel, caught me off-guard. And they struck me as authoritative. They resonated with a similar authority as the writings of Martin Luther, selections of which I had recently read (bizarre, I know: I had become interested in German authors, having enjoyed several of Herman Hesse’s novels, and picked up an anthology of German literature to discover more. The early entries included several selections of Luther). Perhaps it was Jesus’ single-handed stand against religious hypocrisy that reminded me of Luther’s boldness, and appealed to the non-conformist in me.
And then some of the statements of Jesus seemed to apply themselves more personally to me, which was a little surprising, and unnerving. His words seemed to get through to me. This Jesus was (dare I admit it?) a real teacher, a genuinely good teacher, someone you might listen to. Someone you might follow.
I was supposed to be helping my friend back to reality, away from this myth, away from this ornamental, decorative museum piece of European history; away from this weakness, from this intellectual implosion, and back to the robust, concrete world of what we know – and what we know we know. But I was having a struggle.
The problem of faith
And so, as I continued reading, it was as though living, green shoots of faith appeared and began to grow where previously there had been nothing. Faith, and along with faith (this was shocking to me), a desire to learn more about Christ emerged and began to focus my attention. I began to be genuinely interested.
Before too long, having finished John, to my own surprise – and even somewhat against my own will – I knew I needed to investigate this more, and began to consider what it would mean to become a genuine follower of Jesus Christ.
Let me not keep you too long – but through a wonderful series of events in a short space of time, and through reading more – I committed my life to Christ. And it actually began to change how I was writing and what I was writing.
Learning and serving
A dear friend of mine, Roger Stott, whom I had met through his daughter, and who was then producing television programmes at the BBC, heard of my conversion. Although a non-believer (he had been part of a separatist religious cult), he encouraged me by giving me several books by Francis Schaeffer as well as Mere Christianity by CS Lewis (he was older than me, but a kindred spirit in terms of English literature and poetry, and had studied under Lewis at Cambridge).
On hearing that a well-known preacher was holding an evangelistic campaign in a football stadium in London, Roger contacted me again, and we attended the event together. Later, he helped arranged for me to appear on one of the BBC’s religious programmes to talk about my conversion. After the taping, he went to the trouble of obtaining the complete unedited interview, baffled by my sudden turnaround.
A little later, a church member lent me The Select Sermons of George Whitefield which includes a stunning biographical sketch by JC Ryle. These things helped shape my desire to communicate to others those things I had discovered.
I joined a local church, was baptised, and was soon in a theological and leadership training programme which helped me begin to serve local churches that were being started in England.
The local church
From the earliest days of my development, I was inspired by, and then became friends with Terry Virgo, who was leading a local church team in Brighton. My friendship with Terry has deeply shaped my life, launched my family into a global adventure, and he continues to inspire me to try and serve others sensitively with a blend of theological depth and faith-filled expectation.
During the past 32 years my primary work has involved serving and strengthening local churches, and helping them serve the communities in which they have been planted. I am now based, with my wife and our children in the stunning city of Cape Town, South Africa and thrilled to be part of a large, multi-racial church that has a big heart for the poor. Together we lead a thriving new congregation in the trendiest street in the city, Kloof Street!
He who is and who was and who is to come!
Actually, history is not meaningless. In fact, history is shot through with grace as well as disgrace (which is as we would expect if the Bible is true). History can both appal and inspire us. In the midst of suffering and struggle we can see stunning examples of God’s faithfulness that can stir fresh faith and strength in our efforts to serve Him to the benefit of others today.
The Church History Review (loosely based on my rambling church history lectures) has been written to encourage you. It is not, obviously, exhaustive but selective. It’s the bits that inspire or challenge me.
I’ve worked hard to ensure there are no ‘urban legends’ or unverifiable nonsense. If you find any story without a clear reference, or, if you are an academic, and find there is a reference that you know to be in error then please let me know by leaving a comment.
If God is who the Bible says he is then Christians, of all people, ought not to be under any pressure to exaggerate or overstate.
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Lex has had several modern hymns published by EMI, Capitol Records and Integrity Music, as well as books for those interested in Christianity. Take A Closer Look (Word, UK) is now available in a Kindle version. He has authored a book for new believers called Beginnings (2013). His poetry has also been published in South African literary magazines and journals as well as in a recent UK anthology.
© 2016 Lex Loizides