I was walking with a co-worker recently who is not a person of faith. The comment from this individual about the treatment of Christianity in the media and culture surprised me.
“I wish they would balance out their reporting with some of the good things that Christians do in the world in addition to the hypocritical things.”
So do I. But as my sainted Granny used to say “that horse has left the barn”. I thought about that statement later. What caused this person who does not believe to defend Christians? I think it is because this friend has seen me (and other Christians) deal honestly with life through our lens of grace and Jesus. They have watched real people that they have a relationship with represent Jesus through kindness, giving and caring. That is what Jesus was talking about in the Sermon on the Mount.
“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.
“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5:13-16, NLT)
I wrote about these same issues in my book When Bad Christians Happen to Good People.
The sad reality is that the biggest problem for Christianity is not what we get exorcised over while watching cable news. It is not biased newspapers. It not “godless” national leaders. It is not the evil “media” or television or movies. These are merely symptoms of the biggest problem. The biggest problem in Christianity is found in the local church. It is me. And it may be you.
Many Christians have become so totally assimilated into the culture that there is nothing distinctive about their lives. Others are so unaware of God’s grace that they live a life of joyless tedium that is attractive to no one. Others isolate themselves into holy huddles with little or no interaction with people who are desperate for the hope of the Gospel.
Sometimes I wonder what God was thinking when He decided Christians would be His representatives here on Earth and often many people’s first impression of Jesus Christ. Could there be a worse marketing campaign than some of headlines generated over the past several months by celebrity Christians? Most of us who identify ourselves as Christians shake our heads and condemn all incidents that damage the cause of Christ. And yet on some level, if not as publicly, we all have failed. We have failed to understand what being a Christian means and what should result from that sacred responsibility. G. K. Chesterton observed correctly that “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
No matter how strongly each of us feels about issues related to the worldview/culture war struggle, all of us Christians must exhibit grace. Too often we have come off as mean, condescending, and anti-intellectual. We must sear into our hearts and consciousness that the enemy is the conflicting worldview, not the people who hold that worldview. We must extend grace even when it is painful, even agonizing to give. Certainly sincere Christians have heartfelt convictions and beliefs, but so do many outside of the faith. Sincerity and conviction are not exclusive franchises of Christianity. No matter how strongly you feel you are right, you cannot argue your way to success.
So what do we as Christians do now that the culture has “turned” on us? Maybe we get back to the program that caused Christianity to flourish against cultural and political oppression centuries ago. Serve selflessly. Sacrifice for others. Love without distinction. Give until it hurts and then give more. Go where people are wounded and offer the hope of the Gospel and grace. Confess your own hypocrisy and daily need for God’s grace. Remember the greatest commandment was not to demand political freedom and fair treatment.
One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31, NLT)
Maybe we should try that for awhile and worry a little less about our “persecution” from the culture. Because the biggest problem in Christianity today might very well be me and you.
Author Dave Burchett's latest book is Stay: Lessons My Dogs Taught Me about Life, Loss, and Grace. You can follow him on Twitter @directordb.