Sitting in the midst of the grandeur and austerity, I wondered if something important was missing from my spiritual life. On our recent trip to Prince Edward Island we visited an old Catholic church in Charlottetown known as St. Dunstan’s Basilica. The church I attend in my hometown meets in the gym of the local Boys and Girls Club building. With its plastic chairs and basketball goals, it isn’t exactly the picture of reverence and awe. People wear shorts and tennis shoes. My children run around and play hide and seek and climb on gymnastics mats when the service is over.
Part of me likes this about my church. The bare bones version of a place of worship helps me remember that the church isn’t about a building, and it certainly shouldn’t be about appearances.
Yet, as I sat in that old church filled with so much character gazing at the murals, sculptures, and the stained glass, I wondered momentarily if I was cheating myself out of something more grand or fulfilling. Would sitting surrounded by such great beauty improve my worship experience, or somehow make me more like Jesus?
However, the longer I sat there, the more I realized the church is only as effective as the people who enter it. I can sit with a heart full of corruption in any kind of building, or even outside in the open. Where I worship doesn’t transform me into a “good Christian,” just like a car sitting in a garage doesn’t transform the car into a garage.
Friends, I try not to get super religious on this blog very often, as I know my readers come from various backgrounds, but there is something weighing on my heart I’d like to process through the written word. Bear with me.
Recently, I see the term Christian becoming more of a distasteful word. You add in words like evangelical and fundamentalist, and people act even more displeased. Christians can’t even agree with one another, and our leaders seem to be falling from their pedestals like leaves in the autumn.
As a young lady, I was taught how fortunate I was to live in a nation founded on religious freedom. I heard about believers forced to exercise their beliefs in hidden rooms in far away places. Stories were shared about people boldly proclaiming the name of Jesus and being executed for their faith. These events still happen today. I always wondered if I would have the same courage. If pressed, would my love for Jesus matter more than my very life? The ability to call myself a Christian seemed like a priceless treasure, and one I should not take for granted.
For those of us who are Christians, I wonder what we are doing for Jesus’ reputation these days. I include myself in that statement. Does Jesus seem appealing, loving, forgiving, and desirable to others when they watch and interact with me?
My husband shared a recent study with me conducted by the Barna Group. You can read the results here, but the bottom line is that only 14% of self-identified Christians exhibit both the attitudes and actions of those we find in the Jesus of the Bible. Over half think and behave much closer to the self-righteous Pharisees of the Bible. For those of you not familiar with the Pharisees, they were the religious leaders so concerned with following rules and laws that they failed to see their flaw of pride. Jesus vehemently condemned their behavior multiple times.
The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. The people of Antioch were apparently in the habit of making up nicknames to make fun of others. Commentators think it is likely that the term Christian was intended to be derogatory. To give a bit more context, at that time soldiers under certain generals would identify themselves by adding “ian” to the end of their general’s name (someone under Caesar would be a Caesarian). The term Christian essentially means “of the party of Jesus” or Jesus people. I guess Saul, Barnabas and the rest felt the term to be accurate, in spite of the intent, and the name stuck.
The term Christian is once again (and this has happened over and over in history) becoming negative. Society, more and more, views Christians as judgmental, unaccepting, critical, and intolerant. Our young people are leaving the church at higher rates than ever before.
There are three instances that stand out to me in scripture as to how Jesus handled people who didn’t believe in him or lead what he would consider a desirable lifestyle. One was the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus didn’t yell at her. He had a conversation with her (which that alone was counter-cultural at the time), stated the facts, and encouraged her to change. The woman caught in adultery is another example. Standing there, surrounded by people ready to throw stones, she was surely stunned when Jesus not only didn’t pick up a rock, but instead confronted those holding them with their own sin. She was redeemed with the thud of every rock that dropped to the ground. And finally, there was Zaccheus the tax collector, a job considered vile at the time. Jesus didn’t look at him in disdain, but decided to have a meal with him.
Jesus saved his harshest words for the ultra-religious. I have a feeling many of us would feel surprised at who Jesus would choose to call out for ill behavior if he walked among us today. It wouldn’t be the people who have chosen a gay lifestyle. It wouldn’t be the women dancing in the bars. It wouldn’t be the sweet young girl who had just had an abortion. I’m pretty sure it would be those standing around condemning them, preening their feathers, saying, “Look how much better I am than these people.” I just wonder what he would say to ME. What would he say to you?
Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 13:1 that without love we are a clanging cymbal or a noisy gong.
Jesus told us to love God and love our neighbors.
I can’t hear my neighbor over all of the clanging cymbals, including those I’m battling inside of my own head.
Surely it’s time for an intervention…time to give the term Christian a good name again. Maybe I just need to simply say I’m for Jesus…the one who was humble, sacrificial, a good listener, and engaged the disadvantaged.
Let’s try to remember this principle:
Encouragement: as much as possible.
Advice: once in a great while.
Rebuke: only when necessary.
Condemnation: never. (from Renovare USA’s Facebook page)
“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:13