There is a lot of hand-wringing and whining about the government and society and culture and how they are all seeking to make Christianity a thing of the past in America. Yet, have we considered that our greatest enemy may be us — “Christians” who are practicing a diluted version of “Christianity”?
I don’t know the exact context of the comic strip that made the saying famous, but it may well apply to us. In 1971, Walt Kelly, the Pogo comic strip artist, has Pogo looking out on a garbage dump. He says to his companion, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Is it possible that Christians — or so-called Christians — are are the real enemy of Christianity? Isn’t it time to quit blaming the government and society for the dwindling number of citizens who attend churches or dare to call themselves a “Christian” and take a look in the mirror?
Certainly, government and culture has had an impact on faith in God; no question about that. Ironically, it is common for people in our culture to do the very things, in principle, that Christians were accused of doing in the past — exaggerating issues; seeking to legislate morality; “thought control”; shaming people over trivial matters; chilling speech and censoring speakers. There’s an interesting article about that, entitled, Secularists Doing the Crazy Stuff Christians Used to Do.*
The media takes its shots at Christianity as well. When was the last time you saw a “real” Christian on a network TV show? Maybe in the 60s, at the latest? On one new medical TV series, God has been blamed for the refusal to use transfusions (a JW patient), for a refusal to treat a patient at all (Christian Scientist) and for a mother who stole someone’s baby because “God must have wanted me to have a child.”
But we can’t lay the blame of the decline of “Christianity” entirely on our culture. The truth is, “Christians” have been their own worst enemies.
I’m putting the term “Christianity” and “Christians” in quotes because the term “Christian” is applied with too broad a brush today, to include just about everyone who says they believe in Jesus. In the Bible, the term is applied narrowly to those who followed Jesus — committed disciples — and were willing to suffer for him (I Pet. 4:16). The term is used a mere three times and the term “Christianity” is never used in Scripture.
How have “Christians” hurt the cause of Christ in the land? Let me count the ways!
Let’s start with the extreme — groups like the Westboro Baptist church, with its God Hates Fags website and sign-carrying protesters, even at funerals. The damage these groups — and individuals who support them — do is impossible to calculate. Those most critical of Christianity will smear a little Westboro Baptist church hatred onto every Christian.
Of course, we already bear the historical burden of “Christians” spreading global terror. Can you spell “Crusades”? Violence in the name of Christ is not uncommon.
There are other reasons, within the religious community. Churches that claim to be Christ-honoring are hopelessly divided from other churches because few churches seem to be interested in what Christ actually said about the way we should be “doing church.” Churches ignore Christ on issues like organization (setting up boards of trustees and creating the “senior pastor” fiction) and worship (focusing on entertainment instead of worshipping in spirit and truth [John 4:24]) and work (offering physical recovery programs that go far afield of helping people get spiritually well). And these are the “conservative” denominations.
Why would we expect the world to take Christianity seriously if Christians can’t even agree on what they should be doing in the churches? You can’t blame the culture for that; the blame goes directly to those who lead these churches.
But, let’s bring it closer to home. This may sting a little…
As a church, we claim to have the proverbial t’s crossed and i’s dotted. We are devoted to authority, down to the smallest detail. We are adamant about unity and local church autonomy. That’s all good and right.
But there’s more to being a child of God than getting in the right church. The church is not only the church when gathered at 900 E. Natoma. We are the church every day, every hour. And when it comes right down to it, Christianity is judged by the attitude and behavior of its adherents (“Christians”) who live and work and play in the real world.
The cause of Christ has been harmed most acutely at the local level. Generally, poor marriages, divorces, out of control kids, family discord of all kinds (not due to true Christian commitment, Mt. 10:27) leave the distinct impression that “Christianity doesn’t work in the real world.”
And, of course, an arrogant, self-righteous, overbearing “Christian” does more harm to the cause of Christ locally than seeing a Westboro Baptist protester on TV. A Christian who can’t or won’t say, “I’m sorry” to a non-Christian that he has offended carries a banner saying, “Christians are always right” even though they’ll pray in an assembly, “forgive me of my many sins.”
A “Christian” who yells at his wife and kids, in the earshot of his neighbors, gives all Christians a black eye and does damage to Christianity more directly than a Richard Dawkins’ tirade on YouTube.
TV preachers and charlatans aside, any preacher who makes stuff up in the pulpit so his sermon is a crowd-pleaser is no friend of Jesus and sullies the image of what a Christian is supposed to be — absolutely truthful and true to the Scriptures.
A Christian man who dates a non-Christian lady and makes sexual advances tarnishes the image of Christianity — possibly forever — for that woman.
The young woman who can’t keep a secret and insists on spreading tales about others says to all who hear her: “Christians endorse slander and gossip. Why would I want to be involved in that?”
Then there is our chosen lifestyles, for all to see. We accumulate goods at the same rate as the consumerist culture that we, apparently, identify with. We watch the same lewd and vicious TV fare as everyone else — and then comment on it on Facebook (“Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad” are two that come to mind).
Or, we live in our neat house, with our manicured lawns which, as one person said, “are the modern moats that keep the barbarians away.” We have our own Samaritans — people we despise and want no part of. The Pharisees among us say, like those of old, “Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?” but they do not bother to ask why (see Mt. 9:11).
I can hear Paul say, “you didn’t learn Christ that way!” (Eph. 4:20).
True Christianity is disabled when, instead of seeking sinners, like Jesus did, we opt instead for finding “good people, just like us” to “join our little band” (the church). Christ said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mt. 9:13). If I am of Christ, I will seek the same type of people Jesus sought, though it may make me uncomfortable at times.
The impact of Christianity has dwindled for lots of reasons not directly in our control. Perhaps it is healthiest, though, for us to look inward to see how we might be contributing to its decline. Perhaps, as much as anything else, the failure of Christianity to grow in the U.S. is becaue of US.
Clearly, constant evaluation of ourselves in light of the Word makes sense and is a command: II Cor. 13:5. We need to measure our actions and words and choices by the actions, words and choices of Jesus.
We are all painting a picture of what Christianity is, to those who see us. Or, as Paul put it, “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” II Cor. 3:1-3
It’s good to remember that the world is reading us like a book. Life is too short to allow petty disagreements and squabbles, or poor moral choices to taint our lives. When our lives are tainted, it spills onto others. And their view of Christ and Christianity is affected, perhaps permanently.
It’s amazing when you think about it: Christianity has survived the foibles, the misapplication, and the outright denial of its impact for 2000 years. If we succeed in messing it up completely in our time, in our nation, you can count on this: it will rise again and thrive in another time, in another, perhaps totally unexpected place. The fault is not in Christianity and certainly not in Christ. It’s always been true — its proponents are often the ones who do it most harm.
(Originally published in the View, the Folsom church of Christ’s weekly publication)