“I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” – Mohatma Gandhi
I have been struggling for some time with the fact that Christians all too often look nothing like the Christ they claim to be following. I say this as an “insider” — a person who wants to continue to be identified as a follower of Jesus.
I say this as a person who believes that differences are to be expected within the church body and should be embraced rather than shunned. I believe we are to be people who wrestle with God and what it means to be his body on earth. This is a serious task that requires serious struggling with questions like:
What does love look like in this specific situation?
What does justice look like here?
What does grace look like in this case?
These are hard questions which will have many varied answers — all of which can be said to be within the scope of what it looks like to follow Christ. We, after all, have not been given an instruction manual with answers to every possible situation we may encounter in our days on earth.
Rather we have been given a story. A story of a God revealing himself and people responding to this revelation. They all respond in broken, hesitant, ways just like we do today. We are given stories of people who have gone before us to give us the faith and trust that though the path seems hard to navigate, many have gone before us and planted signposts helping to show us we are at least heading in the right direction.
…. And yet ….
Where is the line that identifies the boundary between what is actual, honest struggling with an attempt to be a little-Christ in the world and a flag-waving, Jesus-naming “Christianity” that looks nothing like the servant of all? The “cultural Christianity” that either pretends to honour the name of Jesus or is self-delusional so that those who claim this title of “Christian” truly believe they are serving Christ even if Jesus would say “depart from me, I never knew you”.
While I don’t know exactly where the boundary is, perhaps an example will help make this more tangible than simply words on a screen.
Let’s say three people claiming to follow Jesus are looking at the current refugee crisis worldwide and are discussing what Jesus would do. The first person suggests that as a well-to-do country, we have a responsibility to share what we have and welcome in as many refugees as we can. The second thinks we need to look at a more balanced approach where we help severe cases immediately by relocating them to our country, but focus most of the attention on how to improve the conditions in the country they are fleeing. They want to see international aid drastically increased and peacekeeping groups sent to help the country with a long-term goal of having the country healed from within. The third person claims they are opposed to allowing anyone in because there is a chance they could be dangerous and also does not think additional aid will do anything except increase the debt of our country, so why should we bother — it’s not our problem.
The first two ideas are both examples of what it looks like to struggle for answers for how to love others, seek justice for the oppressed, and see the kingdom of God come on earth as it is in heaven. The third looks nothing like what Jesus would do or how his kingdom citizens should act on his behalf.
My struggle for quite some time relates to this and has only grown more pronounced in recent years. I want to enter into conversations with people, self-identifying as Christians, who act out their faith in ways that are different than mine and have them encourage me to become more like the God I serve.
And I have found many people who do just that in my life.
Unfortunately, I have also found that many of the people who I truly believe sincerely want to follow Jesus instead do significant damage to the witness we are placed in the world to be.
When Christians are more likely to support military action than the average person in a country, something has gone wrong.
When Christ-followers are more likely to be persuaded by political platforms based on fear, exclusionary economic policies, and reduced social programs, the message of Christ has been lost somewhere in the cultural noise.
Where is the line between unity and protest?
When should we sit and talk with someone in the hopes of encouraging them in Christlikeness and when should we call out the actions and belief systems as being anti-Christ (as in being opposed to the message and actions of God in this world)?
How should someone interact with professing Christians who seem to discount the very heart of the Gospel? This is the news that Christ is King, Jesus is Lord and everything we do now needs to be centred on enacting the message that the Kingdom of God is here. Love, faithfulness, justice, patience, and more fruit of the Spirit are the way to live and act in the world now and anything else is not worth our energy.
There is a time for unifying language, but sometimes this need to be replaced with confrontational calls to repentance (by which I mean a complete rethinking of the way we live our lives and our actions in every aspect of life).
The goal in everything we do is repentance, restoration, and reconciliation, so how do we confront unChristlikeness amongst Christians in ways that will lead here? How and when do we let it be known that this is not what it looks like to be a Christian while still leaving a trail of crumbs that leads to redemption?