Today’s Christianity in America, and much of the First World, has become more concerned with how the world affects the Church than how the Church can affect the world. Many Christians are concerned about stopping the onset of secularism in their society. This seems like a good thing, upholding Biblical principles in society; but, the methods and motives behind these movements usually aren’t Christ-like. It seems that much of the church is more concerned about maintaining our comfort, and safety than reaching out to a broken and hurting world. Dr. Paul Louis Metzger asks “What kingdom are we really after, Christ’s Kingdom or American privilege?” (Manning & Merchant, 2008). The strange part about this truth is that most Christians have no idea that their motives, methods and causes are misguided. Ask a non-Christian, however, and they will point it out as one of the biggest reasons why they aren’t a Christian. There are even Christians who are afraid to admit their belief, because so many of Christ’s followers have it all wrong.
How long before evangelical Christianity is destroyed in America? Well, assuming we agree that it hasn’t already happened, Dr. Tony Campolo believes that we have less than 25 years (Manning & Merchant, 2008). The good news is that there are people like Gabe Lyons who are marching towards a new horizon in the Church; a modern day reformation, if you will. Lyons (2010) says “As Christians, we must work for the peace, security, justice, and prosperity of our neighbors. We have a responsibility to be in service to the good of our cities while we remain grounded in Christ” (pg. 200). How do we do this? How do we break free of our instinctual, society bred, need for self-preservation to serve others? How do we return Christianity to every sector of society without violence, alienation and protest? The concept is simple, but the application will be one of the toughest battles the Church has ever fought. We must cease trying to be the mouth of Jesus and learn to, truly, be His hands and feet.
Our Big Mouth
From very early in the history of the Church we have used violence and hatred as a tool to attempt to mold the world. When we finally realized that killing and violence weren’t working, we started spewing our hatred with our voices. Our motivation is our hatred for sin, but what we display is hatred for people, and a twisted interpretation of God’s Word. Pastor Rick Warren said “The Church is the body of Christ, and for the last 50 years the hands and the feet have been amputated, and all we’ve been is a big mouth” (Manning & Merchant, 2008). Ouch. This quote places the blame for the world’s animosity towards Christians right where it belongs, squarely on the shoulders of those same Christians. We have forgotten that hating sin does not allow us to hate the sinner. Oh, sure, we’ll spout the rhetoric “hate the sin, not the sinner”; but, the rest of our actions speak far louder than this simple, empty phrase. For these reasons Christianity is not seen by society as a light, but rather, a sidebar, a nuisance, a petulance from a less enlightened time. The frightening reality is that our own failures have ensured that “The effort to see America formally defined and characterized according to Judeo-Christian ideals has been lost” (Lyons, 2010, pg. 27).
The reality of the Gospel has gotten lost in translation by most of today’s Christians. We see someone openly sinning and feel the need to step out and point out their sin. We protest the loss of family values and the sanctity of life and marriage on the streets, but ignore them in our own homes. We protest gay marriage on the courthouse steps, but not the divorces taking place between heterosexual Christians in that same courthouse. It’s not that our hearts are in the wrong place. A heart changed by God is broken for the same things that break God’s heart. The problem is that we are molding God around our own prejudices and thoughts rather than allowing God to mold us. More to the point, we are spewing our own interpretation of God’s truth to people who don’t even know Him. We say that we are doing it out of love and concern for people; but, true love has never made someone feel hated.
The problem with our current tactic is that God doesn’t need us to speak for Him, or even to shove His words in someone else’s face. God has already spoken, and His Word is available to all. With the help of pastors, teachers, apostles, and the Spirit, any who desires can study and learn the truth contained in the pages of Scripture. It’s time for God’s followers to talk less and do more. It’s time to display God’s love through actions and not words. If we are acting for God, we really don’t have to talk about Him at all. People will see Him in us and be drawn to him. It’s time to follow the very Word that we throw around. 1 Peter 4:8-10 says:
Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Peter 4:8-10, NASB)
It’s time to be the body of Christ, and not just His mouth.
Christ was a man of action; He went about performing miracles and helping people. When He taught, it was only then that they came to Him. He never forced anyone to listen to Him, and He treated everyone with love and compassion. Thus far in this paper we have discussed ways in which our big mouth has caused the church to be branded with the sins of strife, intolerance and hatred. All is not lost, however, for there is a movement stirring amongst many Christians. An understanding is dawning that the old way of doing things isn’t working, and was never right anyway. “Americans are spiritual, but they have begun to seek spiritual experiences outside the framework of traditional religions” (Lyons, 2010, pg. 27). This says something about the state of the Church vs the state of God. He’s working, we aren’t. Those that understand this have been dubbed the NEXT Christians by Gabe Lyons (2010). What is it that these people understand that the rest don’t; and, how do we use this to reach the world for Christ? They understand that it isn’t about teaching people the Gospel through words, tracts, or even rallies; but about being Christ to the world, through action.
For some, this means giving up the marble pillared malls, fancy cars and extreme comfort and heading off to the mission field. For most, however, it’s about displaying love right where they are. A joyful coworker or employee can change the entire atmosphere of an office or job site. A dutiful servant husband or wife can change the entire family, both inside and outside the home. Swarms of church goers serving a hot meal for the homeless, while never once proclaiming the Gospel, still leaves the imprint of God on the city. Business owners who offer a fair price for excellent products, without gimmicks or false promises, returns a sense of trust to the community.
You see, while society thrives on quick fixes and instant gratification, Christians need to do and expect the opposite. It’s time to return to the core of what Christianity is, to who Christ is, to the FULL Gospel. The full Gospel begins with restoration and ends with salvation, and is preached with action, not words. As we use our hands, feet and hearts to restore people and situations to wholeness, then the conversations will begin that lead to salvation. By feeding the hungry, clothing the needy, showing compassion to a stranger, coworker or sibling, we open the door of our hearts, and the love of God spills out. This type of love is far more powerful than any words we currently spew outside courthouses or abortion clinics. It also produces the kind of salvation that is real, lasting; and, that alters the very fabric of society.
Only through the restoration of the hearts can we ever expect the minds to change. As we work together to display Christ to the world, we will slowly see His face again in culture. We will likely still see scripture removed from courthouses, and sinful things becoming legal and acceptable. The difference is, though, that we will see a restoral of true love, tolerance and acceptance. Believers and non-believers will be working side-by-side to combat the problems that plague all of us. Conversations about motivations, hearts and love will take place. Sinful things that were once glorified, won’t go away, but they won’t matter anymore. What will matter is taking care of the person next to you, and loving everyone will become common place. All of this will ultimately lead to people being saved. The truth will no longer be seen as something to be hiding from. The Gospel of love will be lived, not just talked about wistfully.
Since only a few hundred years after her commission the Church has become everything she should not have. Instead of the bastion of hope, joy, love and grace that she was created for, she has become something much worse. Today she is known by non-believers as hateful, intolerant, closed-minded, selfish and something to be rid of. Few statements capture the state of the Church more succinctly that the words of St. Augustine: “The church is a whore, but she’s my mother.” While the Church has failed at almost every part of the great commission, and at loving everyone, she has still carried the truth forward. This is good news, because it means we still have the means to set it all right. It’s time for a new approach. Gone are the days of setting up mass salvation revivals, and traveling crusades. Oh sure, they will still draw a crowd, but real change for the world doesn’t happen there. Real change happens at work, in business, under a bridge, or in a third world country. It happens through closing our mouths, opening our hearts, and using our hands and feet to serve others. It’s time to restore humanity’s trust in humanity.
It may seem counter to everything that we have ever been taught in church. Putting away the tracts, stop pushing salvation and start providing restoration. However, the truth is that this is what the world needs. She needs restoration of the heart and a renewed trust in being loved, not judged. Gabe Lyons (2010) nails it when he says:
The fact is, where Christians restore, people get saved. And the perception these new converts have of what it means to be Christians is pure and unmistakable. When someone’s introduction to Christ comes through an encounter with real grace, love and an invitation to a better way, it’s likely to reproduce in the same result. (pg. 209).
Finally, it’s time to stop pretending that we have it all figured out, too. Just because we have experienced what God has to offer, doesn’t make us any better, or any less of a sinner than those that haven’t; “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It simply means that we have been covered by grace, and are thus now more aware of the Law. It isn’t our place to share the Law with people. The Spirit will convict people when He knows them ready. Instead, we are to teach people about love and grace through how we treat them.
“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
Lyons, G. (2008). Cultural Influence: An opportunity for the church. Retrieved from http://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/1550/cultural-influence-an-opportunity-for-the-church/
Lyons, G. (2010). The Next Christians: Seven ways you can live the gospel and restore the world. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books
Manning, J. (Producer), & Merchant, D. (Director). (24 October 2008). Lord, Save Us from Your Followers [Motion picture]. United States: Thunderstruck Films.