As we in the Christian church regroup in an era where the church has lost much of its authority in our country, I think we need to look deeply within for why we have turned so many people off in the last forty years. From the scandals of the Catholic priests to the Protestant politicians shoving their beliefs down our throats to the generalized hypocrisy of Christians to the TV evangelists and their money-for-me agendas we in the church have a lot to answer for in the erosion of the reputation of Christianity. From hypocrisy to pride to entitlement to being judgmental to preachiness we have turned off many people.
My view on this is simple: if we can’t attract people to Jesus by the way we live, the love we share with everyone and the way we treat others with respect and justice and love, then we have no business going out to preach at them.
Have you talked to someone lately about your faith only to be overwhelmed by the hostility coming at you? Have you mostly gotten arguments or ridiculous things out of the Bible thrown at you? I did get a comment recently: “If you’re a Christian why aren’t you stoning people to death who work on the Sabbath?” At first I laughed and then I thought, “Is this the criterion for being a Christian?” But the next week in our readings, there was that law in Exodus 31:14. My reader was intending to say that if we believed one thing in the Bible, we had to believe it all.
Or has someone challenged you about something you don’t even believe and then accuse you of watering down Christianity so it’s palatable? Have they asked how you could believe in a story that has little historical basis except for the Bible? Have they accused you of avoiding the hard questions, of not liking to be challenged? Or has someone said to you that since he left Christianity behind, he’s a better person? On March 19, 2014 I had these comments on this blog and more.
Although I didn’t take these comments personally–they were certainly directed at all Christians–I do take them seriously, since this is the prevailing feeling about Christianity today in our culture. It’s easy to say that our critics are lost or bad or whatever, but really I do think we have to listen to our critics; they have some good things to say. If we listen to them, we can learn a lot.
This is not the time to hunker down or build walls to protect ourselves. This is the time to open up more, to search for a new language that would appeal more to today’s people than sin and hell-fire and damnation. Mostly this is the time for us to live the Gospel. The major criticism is that Christians are hypocrites—they preach one thing and do another. I think that all people are hypocrites to one extent or another because it is very difficult for human beings to be of one mind, to acknowledge that our words or actions are problematic and to change, and to live a congruent life where the inner and outer are the same. I do think this is what Jesus modeled, but how close are we to living that model?
Jesus did not just preach helping the poor, he was asking us to befriend them, too. When Paul talks about putting on the mind of Christ, he is saying that our inner life and outer life must be the same. When Jesus was angry(at the temple with the moneychangers) or fearful(in Gethsamane) he expressed it and took care of it right away. He did not hold on to it, let it build, make him judgmental of or feel better than others.
It’s the job of us Christians to live the Gospel, not just to spout its wisdom. We are to be love in this world! Loving God with all of our selves, loving our neighbors, loving the poor and rejected of this world. We need to stop using the Gospel for our ends and use it to promote the kingdom. If the one preaching the Gospel is not living it, he or she lives a lie. If it’s more important that we get your point across than that we be with this person where he or she is, than we’ve missed the whole point of Jesus’ teaching. If we are love, then we have time for the people before us, time to understand, to listen to their stories, to see them as a beloved of God, to allow them to get to know us. We are not to be the givers of the world, we are to be exchangers of love in the world.
For what good is feeding, slaking the thirst of and clothing the poor unless we allow them to feel like an important part of the equation? What good is working on a soup line if we’re wishing we were somewhere else? What good is writing a check for a charity when we could have an interesting and engaged time being with the people we want to help? Our hands-off attitude towards the poor means they might as well be lepers, we so keep our distance. God forbid that we should enter into their lives in some way, to let them into our lives, to make them feel like they belong here as much as we do.
What makes us so sure that our wealth or education or position in life or our being Christians makes us better than anyone else? God created every person, rich or poor. He gave each of us a place on this earth, lessons to learn, resources to share. He loves every single person no matter what.
What if we Christians, because of our love of Christ, were the same loving presence with every single person who crossed our paths—no matter the differences—loving, embracing, having patience, taking joy in them, exchanging love with them? What a difference that would make! We’d have to put down our Bibles and reach out our hands in welcome.
Questions to ponder over the week: What is my focus? Living what Jesus taught or preaching it? How can I be more emphasis on being true to the Gospel in what I do and say? How do I move to a more integrated life where my inner state and the outer are the same?
Check out these pages on my website this week at bythewaters.net: On the home page “An Unhelpful Pattern” and on the Meditations page “Living the Gospel.”