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Friday, August 27, 2010

In the Name of Christ

If you haven't heard something to this effect, you're not likely paying attention: "I don't believe in Christianity because of all the evil that has been done in the name of Christ." It comes in a variety of tones and flavors and bears a variety of evidence, but that's the general idea. Maybe they'll point to one of the favorites, the Crusades. Maybe they'll point out the numbers of people calling themselves "Christian" who favored American slavery and its attendant racism in the name of Christ. It's not hard to point out those killed for heresy, witchcraft, and wars between Christian sects, like the conflict in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics or the France's War of Religion which was a fight over "Une foi, un loi, un roi," (one faith, one law, one king). More often than this, however, you'll hear complaints about Christians in general. "You claim that the command is to love your neighbor, but the Christians I know aren't very loving." That kind of thing.

I wouldn't even begin to set about justifying these things. I think we're all pretty clear that they were and are wrong. Any attempt to explain "No, they're good things" would be foolhardy. However, there are two considerations I'd like to offer for you to think about.

First, to those who complain, I'd like to point out the problem of consistency. In the common complaints you hear you'll likely get something like "You're supposed to be about love, but ..." and they'll go on to tell you how Christians they know are not loving. Note the truth claim at the start. Jesus did indeed command His followers to love their neighbors. The truth claim is accurate. This shows up in lots of places. For instance, the Bible does not favor hypocrites. Jesus saved His harshest words for hypocrites. So here's the problem. If one is to be classified as a Christian -- a disciple of Christ -- and he or she does not do what Jesus said, you can claim that they are inconsistent, but you cannot classify their actions as "Christian". I'm not trying to say that these aren't Christians. I'm simply pointing out that actions outside of Christ's instructions cannot be classified as Christianity. (I'm being narrow here. I would include the teachings of Scripture, but I'm trying to make a point.) Christians are human beings and have the capacity to violate Christian beliefs. Those violations cannot be classified as "Christian" when they are opposed to Christian beliefs. Here's the bottom line. If you're going to complain about Christianity, be sure you are complaining about genuine Christianity. Just because someone wears a "Christian name tag" doesn't mean that their actions or attitudes are Christian. If you're going to evaluate the truth of Christianity, do so on what is written as Christianity, not on what some do in the name of Christianity. You see, we were promised at the outset that there would be large numbers of false "Christians" in amongst the real ones. The famous phrase, "a wolf in sheep's clothing", is a biblical phrase describing "false prophets" among us. Jesus warned about the tares (weeds) in the wheat that would certainly be there. John wrote that antichrists would come from the Church. Surely it's obvious that "antichrists" cannot be Christians -- followers of Christ. So set aside what you've heard and read from the deeds of Christians, either genuine or falsely claimed. I agree that they can be appalling. Evaluate the truth claims of Christianity for what it claims, not for what its so-called adherents do.

Second, to those of you who call yourself Christians, in the words of James, "My brothers, these things ought not to be." We are called "ambassadors for Christ". We are commanded to love our neighbors. We are commanded to "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." We are commanded to avoid hypocrisy (in case you missed it, that's in 1 Peter 2:1). Sure, we are called on to contend for the faith, to make a defense. Sure, that won't always be pretty or pleasant, even though we are required to do it with gentleness and respect. But we are commanded to be "speaking the truth in love" (Eph 4:15). I know, I know -- there will always be bad apples, bad examples, even bad days. But we ought to be checking ourselves, examining ourselves. Paul said, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?" (2 Cor 13:5). We are the authorized representatives (the definition of "ambassador") of Christ here. Shouldn't we reflect that properly by imitating Him, by following the Word, by living it out?

Look, there's nothing we can do, bottom line, about being offensive. The Bible assures us that "the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing" (1 Cor 1:18). It's unrealistic to carry the news "You're a sinner in danger of eternal damnation" and expect a warm reception. But that's the beginning of the Gospel. So shouldn't we be doing it on the basis of love and genuine concern for our fellow beings? Shouldn't we be shining examples of the work of Christ in a fallen person? We cannot avoid the fact that much evil has been done in the name of Christ. Let's not make our own actions something that can be added to that problem, okay?


Jim Jordan said...

Good lessons, Stan. Funny how Islam is not judged by what its murderous followers do by those same people who call out Christianity for dirty deeds done long ago.

I believe the complainers' complaints lie squarely with God even though they won't admit it. They defend the followers of Allah - an obvious human political construct - and berate Christianity, God's true voice with the canard of "evil in the name of Christianity".

Stan said...

Jim Jordan: "Funny how Islam is not judged by what its murderous followers do by those same people who call out Christianity for dirty deeds done long ago."

Yeah, funny, isn't it? It's particularly funny because there is a radical disconnect here. If you judge "Christianity" by the Bible, then "Christians" who have done the bad things that they point out have clearly deviated from Christianity. But if you judge Islam by the Koran, those who are moderate Moslems have clearly deviated from Islam.

Jim Jordan: "I believe the complainers' complaints lie squarely with God even though they won't admit it."

I think that's absolutely true, although I'd also allow for "even though they don't know it themselves." Trying to make that case, whether they admit it or are even consciously aware of it, won't work, though, because ... they either won't admit it or aren't aware of it.