God is Setting All Things Right. So I am Blogging Through the Bible in a Year.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Identity Crisis: A Harsh Reality for Christians

On Monday I began this project on the Letter to the Romans by giving what I believe is the crux of the entire letter: a church caught in a crisis of identifying who are true children of God. What I wish to do today is share a difficult but important point for Christians today.

Christians - or more specifically "church-goers," as the Jews of the 1st Century, have lost their way as Jesus' ambassadors to the world.

“I love your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ” (Gandhi, 1925). Jesus is seen as a master teacher by most of the world. They love Jesus and wish to emulate him. Ask anyone that is not a skeptic or an ardent atheist and they will have a positive view of Jesus. Their view of Christians is not so favorable.

To a certain degree, they are correct. Many Christians who claim to follow Jesus are often ignorant of the Bible and lax in their morality. The phrases “I’m a Christian” and “go to church” often become social statements instead of deep reflections of who we are and what we are. Christianity often becomes less of a spiritual religion and more of a feel-good, shallow philosophy of life or a weak deterrent of bad behavior. The major reason behind this, in my opinion, is the institutionalization of Christianity. In other words, church is the problem.

Jesus is seen as contemporary, interesting and relevant. The church is old-fashioned, boring and stuck in the past. Jeff Bethke wrote a poem entitled “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” Listen to his resuscitation of his poem:

Before criticizing his stance on the church, think about what fuels this response. Is this an attempt to defend Jesus or your institution? At first, I thought he was too generalized, too focused on “liberal” ideals, too accommodating of sin. Then I realized this was my institutional baggage, not Jesus' words. Paul wrote in Romans (to the Jews): “… You have no excuse …. For in passing judgment on another you [the Jews] condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (2:1). I thought of the people I grew up with who still consider themselves ‘Christian’ but look exactly like those who don’t. I thought of the people I worship with who look more like non-believers than believers. Then I looked into my own heart to see whether I was a true disciple.

Christians often like to overlook the “bad seeds” – those who no longer come or those whose only act of following Jesus is their physical appearance at a building. We act as though they don’t exist when someone looks at our congregation. That’s not fair. We cannot treat the church as “a museum for good people” and dismiss members who don’t fit this high calling with the institutional phrase “we can’t make them leave, they’re struggling.”

When Christians wake up to realize we have grown more accustomed to being part of an institution instead of being disciples of Jesus is when our true identity can emerge.