I’ve been struggling lately to identify the ‘right’ way to deal with people who choose to live life differently than me – especially when it relates to my Christian faith. So, let’s talk.
I think that there is an overwhelming misconception among self-labeled devout Christians. I feel like some ‘Christians’ believe that fulfilling their invented obligation to grab their coffee, fill their seat in a beautiful building sitting on a well-manicured lawn, hum along to the songs, flip to the day’s Scripture text, and nod their heads in agreement with the sermon each and every Sunday somehow ensures that their ticket to Heaven gets punched and sets them apart from the rest of the world – which is obviously on its way to eternal damnation. I just don’t buy it. I can’t subscribe to the fable that church should be resigned to a weekly emotional experience. I can’t help but feeling like church should be more than that – that church should be a social exchange. Not just exchange with fellow Believers, but real, life-changing interactions with people that choose to do life differently than we have.
Now, don’t write me off just yet. I’m not at all implying that church services aren’t an important part of the Christian walk. I do believe that they are an essential aspect to one’s personal faith journey. The author of Hebrews (presumably, Paul) talked about this when he said, “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on…” (Hebrews 10:24-25a, The Message). You see, being surrounded by other like-minded Believers gives us an opportunity to learn and grow together, to share encouragements, and to seek encouragement and strength when we’re in need. These things are important. These things are necessary. These things are real. But, is that all being a Christian is about?
It convicts me to think that essentially the only targets of Jesus’ anger were religious people that thought they had their lives together. Take the account in Matthew 23, where Jesus addresses the Pharisees several times, for example. What He said, in effect, was this: “Shame on you, and your fake religious pious! You act like you’ve got it all together, but your pride is an ugly sore that will eat you from the inside out. The picture of hypocrisy; you’re like a mausoleum. A beautiful façade, but inside there’s just death.”
Another example is relayed in Mark 3. The religious leaders were hanging out at the synagogue because they knew there was a gentleman there with an infirmity, and they were waiting to see if Jesus would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus did show up, and this is how Mark put it:
Then he spoke to the people: “What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or doing evil? Helping people or leaving them helpless?” No one said a word. He looked them in the eye, one after another, angry now, furious at their hard-nosed religion. He said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” He held it out—it was as good as new! The Pharisees got out as fast as they could, sputtering about how they would join forces with Herod’s followers and ruin him. (Mark 3:4-6, The Message)
I’ll share a final example. In his Gospel, John tells the story of Jesus showing up at the synagogue and getting pretty upset because the folks in charge had arranged to convert the place of worship into a place of business – selling sacrifices to make a profit. The story goes like this:
When the Passover Feast, celebrated each spring by the Jews, was about to take place, Jesus traveled up to Jerusalem. He found the Temple teeming with people selling cattle and sheep and doves. The loan sharks were also there in full strength. Jesus put together a whip out of strips of leather and chased them out of the Temple, stampeding the sheep and cattle, upending the tables of the loan sharks, spilling coins left and right. He told the dove merchants, “Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!” That’s when his disciples remembered the Scripture, “Zeal for your house consumes me.”(John 3:13-17, The Message)
I think these passages shed light on the fact that Jesus interacted with society in a way that was much different than the religious leaders of His day. I wonder why we would think that should change. Shouldn’t there be a clear distinction between how true Christians – as the so-called ‘body of Christ’ – and how mainstream pseudo-religion engage society? Won’t a true Christian’s reputation be different than that of the majority of their religious counterparts?
Jesus, for instance, was known as a drunk and a glutton, and had a reputation for spending too much time with dirty tax collectors and other sinners (Luke 7:34). The Gospels also give plenty of accounts that testify to the fact that He spent a great deal of time with prostitutes, and other ‘undesirables’.
Shouldn’t this revelation about Jesus’ reputation help to shape our ideas about what it really means to be Christ-like? Getting back to my original remarks, shouldn’t this revelation also shape our ideas about what church is all about? Shouldn’t we be spending more time with people that other “Christians” feel are beneath them? Shouldn’t we be showing these people love and grace and mercy even if we don’t agree with their life choices?
I want a faith that pushes me to learn and grow with other people that think like me in a somewhat structured environment (like a weekly church service), but I also want a faith that compels me to engage the folks outside the four walls of that church in meaningful ways. It’s more important to me that un-churched people see Jesus in me – in the way I love, in the way I give, in the way I contribute to my community – than it is to fit into mainstream Christianity’s cookie-cutter template of what it means to be religious.
I think today’s Christians should be engaged in meaningful conversation about this. I think we can grow when we exchange ideas. So, how do you do church outside of church? Will you share some ideas about how to be like Jesus and not just look like a Christian? Let’s talk. Let’s grow.