We hear often in the media disparaging remarks about Christians. It is the one group society is allowed to attack, the one religion that political correctness refuses to cover with its blanket of protection. But why? Isn’t one of Christianity’s most basic mandates to “love one another?” How is that obnoxious or objectionable? Doesn’t Jesus represent to all of us God’s perfect love? Two answers occur to me:
- 1. The media (i.e. the left) knows so little about Christianity that it has made up its own straw man version to knock about. …and, more importantly,
- 2. The negativity is the fault of the Church writ large – the Roman Catholics, the Anglicans, the mainstream Protestants, the Baptists, the Evangelicals – all of us.
So, in what way has the Church failed Christ?
- 1. The Gospel is good news, but the Church rarely presents it that way. Christianity isn’t about sin, about who’s committing what sin where. Our sins were paid for on the cross – that’s not a catch phrase but an ontological truth. All humans know that perfection is beyond us. And most people – when we think of God at all – understand that He is perfection and demands perfection, can tolerate nothing less. That’s a nasty pickle to be in, but God solved the problem for us. The Gospel tells us that our imperfections have been permanently paid for and forgiven. This is called grace. It is very good news, but…
- 2. Grace is what most Christians get wrong. Oh, we can all repeat the phrase “unmerited favor,” but few think much beyond that and I know that because even our theologians, our Christian writers, our church leaders say the phrase and then start listing all the things Christians have to do earn God’s approval, all the things we have to avoid doing to keep His favor. It’s no wonder non-Christians are confused. Is Christianity about recognizing what Christ did for us, or is it just a club for the self-righteous and the do-gooders? And nobody much likes those folks.
- 3. The Church has failed to make it clear that God is rational, clear, and wanting us to be so as well. It is not rational to say to someone, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” and then turn around and present a list of must-do’s to keep that gift. We can’t say that God is good, that He’s just, that He’s loving and then insist that some of us have been predestined to go to heaven and some to hell. That does not make sense. A God who would arbitrarily choose some to bless some to curse is a nasty being indeed.
Christianity isn’t about following the Ten Commandments, though when a society, generally speaking, does limit behavior along those lines, the society benefits. Christians recognize the worth of those rules, but obeying them does not determine where we spend eternity. It will make life here on earth easier, more pleasant, more fulfilling. But no one can fulfill those mandates perfectly; Christ made that clear in the Sermon on the Mount; if we even think sin, we are guilty of it. If we break even one aspect of the law, we are guilty of all of it. Yet, no matter how obnoxious a sin is, it is not the mandate of the Christian to wipe it out.
Christianity isn’t about earning “Boy Scout” badges, about doing good, about being generous and kind – though both make us feel good and can result in benefits for others. Being generous and kind should be an effect, not a cause, not a requirement, not a way of keeping score. Christians far too often give that impression. It’s about grace, about UNmerited favor.
Christianity isn’t even about praying. Not about memorized prayers, not about public prayer, not about ritualistic prayer. Christianity is about getting to know God and prayer results from that. We communicate with those we know and the better we know them the more contact we want, but prayer without knowing is no better than Facebook. God has introduced Himself to us in nature, but the advanced course in knowing God is in the Bible, and yet many Christian churches downplay the Bible as if it were just an embellishment, another book with which to decorate a shelf.
Christianity isn’t about trying to “change the world,” or “make a difference” by expending our own energies and concentration, our own relationships and worldly goods. That just plumps our own egos. It is man’s basic flaws that screwed up society in the first place – how can a broken part fix a broken car? Besides which, God’s clear communication to us lets us know that He has the solution for this broken world well in hand; we can’t fix it, but He can and He will.
Oddly enough, Christianity done well does change the world. When Christians learn what God would have us do, and do it through the guidance and power of God, amazing things happen. It is Christians who brought into the world orphanages and hospitals, schools and charities of all kinds. It is Christians who insisted in stopping the practice of slavery. Christian countries are usually much more prosperous than their unbelieving counterparts. But the same activities outside of contact with God through Christ don’t fare as well. Look at what happened when a non-Christian foundation set out to help the people of Haiti after the hurricane. Tens of millions of dollars vanished and only six houses were built. Christianity, i.e. a personal connection with the God of the universe, creates almost automatically, an improvement in the world, but one cannot become a Christian by “changing the world.”
We hear people talk about “staying on the straight and narrow path,” and we assume they mean avoiding sin, but the narrow brick road is not the path of uptight, anti-fun, judgmental self-righteousness, though that’s certainly what non-Christians believe we mean and it is often what Christians themselves think it means. The narrow brick road is the path of grace, of acceptance of the fact that we need God to save us, to save our world, to fix all that is wrong. It means living our lives as a thanksgiving for what God has done for us. Our pathologies fight us on this. We want the gold star. We want to earn it ourselves. We want to lord over others. We want others to look to up to us. And we want to ignore the fact that, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” We actually think we can impress God.
The atheist has every right to look on that silliness and want nothing to do with it. Of course, the atheist has his own silliness to contend with. It’s just as ridiculous to think that humans – whom the atheist often paints as the chief evil of the world – are capable of creating a utopian society that will be good for everyone. They, too, totally forget the garbage-in-garbage-out rule.
As this age winds to an end, and it is doing so quickly, we must remember that history will play out just as God has planned it – whether we believe in Him or not, whether we obey Him or not, whether or not we follow and worship His Son. It’s truly pointless to travel down any other road than the narrow and humbling road of perfect, actual grace. It is only that road that leads to permanent joy.