I was raised in a Christian home, and have grown up involved in Christian churches and ministries. I am intimately familiar with the church, both the good it does and the shortcomings it possesses. Despite my familiarity with the culture of American Christianity, I have always tried to see my life and decisions as they would appear to an outsider looking in. It just so happens that the Christian church today has lots of misconceptions and stereotypes, and I want to talk about them. Here’s five things I wish the world understood about Christians.
1) We Don’t Have All of the Answers
Most often, people will turn to the church in times of trouble. This leads them to ask the hardest questions they will ever face. “Why did _____ have to die?” “Will God heal my mother?” “Why do bad things have to happen?”. These are huge problems that have faced humanity for generations. They call in to question the nature of God, the quality of man, and the course of each persons individual life. Does that sound like the kind of question that will have a succinct answer? These are the kinds of questions that may not ever have a complete answer, and even the most intelligent minds of our generation will continue to wrestle with them. Small wonder people often feel unsatisfied by the answers they receive, once they have troubled to ask. But that’s okay.
Honestly, that’s the way it should be. I only trust in a God I can’t comprehend. While Christians believed that God reveals Himself through the Bible, directly through his appearance on earth, and even through the world He created, that does not translate to a comprehensive knowledge of his ways and thoughts. Thank goodness. Our desire to ask hard questions and to understand our God may be related to our information-age mindset, with answers to everything just a click or two away. If I believe in a thing that I completely comprehend, that “thing” is a really lousy God. If I believe in a God who is all knowing and all powerful, I should expect to be a little bit puzzled every now and then. Being a Christian does NOT mean that you have everything sorted out nicely.
2 ) Christians are People Too
Have you ever been to a church, maybe around Christmas time, and someone there was rude to you? Ever known a Christian that was hypocritical? How about some Christian who lies regularly? Join the club….because that’s everyone. We believe that Christ’s death on the cross has saved us from the punishment of our sins, but that doesn’t preclude us from continuing to sin. Christians are ultimately human, and humans make mistakes. That’s all there is to it. Some people have it in their heads (or get the impression from other Christians) that Christians are “holier than thou”, somehow better people for their faith. I know many Christians that are devout, loving people who live such good lives that I do feel somewhat unworthy, but they are the exception. Truthfully, most Christians struggle with the same issues as the rest of America. The church, at its best, is like a hospital…don’t expect to find a bunch of healthy people there. In fact, if you walk in to a church that actively cares for people in its community, you will find people who fight and struggle against drug addiction, alcoholism, marital troubles, domestic abuse, abusive relationships, and every other vice known to man. Why? Because as people, that’s what we do. Christians and non-Christians alike have the exact same issues.
This applies to Christian ministries as well. When reaching out to others, there are going to be problems. People help others out of the goodness of their hearts and their love for God, but they often offend others out of their own weaknesses and insecurity. Christians have those, too. It doesn’t matter if they are home with their families or volunteering at a shelter for the homeless.
3) We Argue About Retarded Issues
There are so many denominations in the church. How many can you name off the top of your head? Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Christian, Wesleyan…..the list goes on. What are the differences that caused these splits in the church? I have no idea. Why are there six Baptist churches in your town? No clue. All of these denominations of churches, though they might seem to be miles apart in theology, probably agree on 95% or more of their beliefs. Actually, I’ll raise that to 98%. Without diving in to specific comparisons, most of the splits are caused by differences in interpretation of just a few verses or issues. Is baptism required for salvation, or is it an act of devotion? That’s the kind of question that causes a split in churches. Admittedly, all of the different denominations can be a little disorienting.
But wait, it’s worse than that. Churches can split for even more terrible reasons. I know of a church that split because they couldn’t agree on a carpet color for the new worship auditorium they were building. Churches develop factions that follow a specific pastor or worship leader, rather than committing to the church. It’s ridiculous. Why does it happen? See #2 above. Christians are still just people, and people mess up a lot. Leaders in a church are no less immune to the problem than the people they lead. Surely you’ve heard the gossip that goes around when a pastor suddenly quits his job for personal reasons. We think it’s shocking because he was a pastor, but doctors get sick just as often as regular people do.
4) The Bible is Rated “R”
There are lots of misconceptions about the Bible, far more than I could cover in a single post, but I want to point this out for now. The Bible is not just a rulebook, a series of do’s and don’ts for life. The Bible is not just a book of judgement and damnation. The Bible is also not just a poetic book of prayers and praise. It’s actually a little bit of everything, and you would need an adult or a fake ID to see it’s movie if you were a kid. I could throw out a list of references that would make you blush, or at least double check to make sure you were still reading your Bible. Incest, prostitution, murder, slavery, and explicit sex are all in the Bible. Frequently. I personally have read the Bible cover to cover six times, and done additional reading in it as well. I am still amazed at the things I find in the Bible. I’ve also read big chunks from other religious texts, and still can’t believe what I read in the Bible. If you think the Bible is irrelevant, outdated, or unreliable, I would encourage you to step back and read it, cover to cover. That leads to my final point
5) Christians Have the Best Story
How appropriate that I get to write this a few short weeks from Christmas. I wrote yesterday about stories and how they develop, and I want to look at the beginnings of Christianity as if I were telling you a story. I love beginnings and origins, because I think there is much to be learned by looking at how something came to be. The birth of Christ was prophesied and came to pass. Jesus himself ministered for just three years before being crucified and rising from the dead. Shortly thereafter, he rose into heaven and his apostles founded the Christian church. That’s crazy! A popular preacher has said that for Jesus to have the impact he did, there are only three options. Either He was a Liar, a Lunatic, or Lord. Since he claimed to be God, often and loudly for all to hear, he could have been a fraud, crazy, or telling the truth. A liar would not likely go through the horrific process of crucifixion and death. A lunatic might, but would not have gathered such a following or risen from the dead. He must have been God, the reasoning goes.
While I like that line of thinking, I have another for your consideration. Let’s pretend you wanted to start a religion. If your name is Bob, you want to found Bobism. You would have to go through certain stages in order to get people to believe that your religion was legit, and thus would demonstrate certain signs to history. You would likely need longer than three years. You would need to recruit followers and weaken your enemies (preferably recruiting prominent, skilled, influential people to be your followers). You would need incentives for your followers and recruits, and a way to organize them and grow more powerful. As Bob, you of course, would need to control all of this, so that Bobism stayed pure to your beliefs as Bob.
By this thinking, I begin to see problems with religions that demonstrate these signs as they grew. Islam, for example, spread by the sword. Killing enemies is a good recruiting tool. I am also dubious of religions that establish one man in a position of prominence, power, or comfort. Mohammed did this while establishing Islam, as did Joesph Smith when he received his revelations and founded the Mormon church.
The beginnings of Christianity look nothing like this. A central leader who claims to be God Himself, rather than his prophet or assistant, is killed only three years after beginning his ministry. His followers, who were by no means impressive people with status, don’t run for cover and ask for their old jobs back(actually they do hide for a few days). Instead, even in the face of oppression by the government, they spread themselves all over the known world, many of them jailed repeatedly and killed violently. That’s quite a story. What did the first apostles have to gain by sharing the story of Jesus? What did they see that drove them to jail and torture? That’s what makes the beginnings of Christianity a story worth telling.
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