POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 8, 2010:
When our faith and actions don't match, can we call ourselves Christians?
I actually enjoy a nice respectful dialogue with someone who claims to be an atheist or agnostic. If I'm honest, however, those dialogues are few and far between.
More often, I have conversations with individuals who want absolutely nothing to do with church, Christians, or the whole organized religious institution altogether.
"It's not your God I have a problem with, it's your followers. You're followers don't always look like your God." The rest of the conversation usually entails my attempt to apologize on behalf of Christians and paint a picture of what an authentic relationship with Christ looks like (minus all the religious jargon and facade).
A recent book entitled "UnChristian" by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons attempted to identify the views typically help by those outside the church looking in at the church. The majority of these people viewed the church as hypocritical, homophobic, judgmental, too political and too focused on converts.
As a Christian, this is important information to know. Most non-Christians will immediately identify you as a hypocrite unless you give them a reason to think otherwise. This is why the need for an authentic faith has never been more necessary than it is today.
There have always been and there will always be hypocrites. It seems like Jesus spends a great deal of his time trying to rewrite the story the Pharisees and teachers of the law had been writing. The Pharisees were all about praying on the street corner in their long, richly ornamented robes. Jesus, however, preferred the outcast tax collector over in the corner beating his chest in repentance (Luke 18:9). The heart wins every time.
I'm not here to berate all the hypocrites out there. If I'm honest, we're all hypocrites to some degree. As Christians, we're all imperfect, fallen, jacked-up people trying to live out what we believe to be an authentic relationship with Christ. I guess some people try harder than others. Some people at least attempt to bring a hint of credibility to the name.
It's almost to the point where it's hard for me to use the word "Christian." I find myself substituting the word for other words or phrases such as "believer" or "follower of Christ" or "disciple" -- something that denotes an action to actually follow the person of Jesus Christ. At times, it seems like the word "Christian" has been diluted, misused and beaten to the point where it's nothing more than a genre or label to describe a mass of people's general beliefs.
It's somewhat unfortunate since the term Christian, which is derived from Antioch (Acts 11:26), came about because the people there had become "little Christs." They so closely resembled the original person of Jesus Christ they were labeled by those around them. Maybe we shouldn't get to call ourselves Christians until we get labeled by others.
Here's my plea: If you are going to publicly label yourself as a Christian then please, please attempt to back it up. If you don't, you can easily become a stumbling block to the number of other people seeking a genuine relationship with Christ.
Several years ago, I had a Christian bumper sticker on my car (that was back when it was cool, I think) that said "Real Men Love Jesus." Unfortunately, I didn't always drive my car in a way that reflected someone who had been transformed by the power of Jesus Christ, if you catch my drift. It was only a few months after I put it on that I took it right back off. Why? I wasn't going to be a part of reinforcing a stereotype that people already have of many Christians. I wasn't going to be a fake.
There's an amazing story in the Old Testament found in Amos chapter 5 (there's no shame looking in the table of contents to find Amos). God is speaking through Amos to the people of Israel and he says,
"I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!"
I'm not sure if you could tell, but that's some pretty strong language. Modern day interpretation: The outward expression of your faith makes me want to puke if it's not accompanied with a genuine heart for God.
The people of Israel had become experts in religion. They were experts in doing church. They had the look, they brought their money to God and they knew most of the words to the songs. While they were in church doing their thing, the poor and hungry in the land continued to be poor and hungry at the expense of those in the church.
God is telling them that what they do inside the walls of the temple must translate into genuine love and service to those outside the walls. If our faith doesn't translate into action, is it real?
God is telling them that he doesn't need another church service, he wants justice, mercy, and love. These are all characteristics of a genuine walk with Christ.
If you're on the outside looking in at a bunch of hypocrites, please realize there are genuine people out there. Don't label the masses as a result of the few. If you claim to be on the inside but you're not living it out, please be aware that your life (and your confession of faith) truly affects people. If you're on the inside doing your best to live this thing out, realize that it might be an uphill battle. More than likely, your life will have to do the talking.
Matt Nelson is the lead pastor at City Church.
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