The thing about Christians is that we are supposed to be very easy to identify. We are supposed to stand out and be different. But, according to John 13, 1 John 2, and 1 John 4, the most easily recognizable character trait is supposed to be our love for one another. "They will know you are my disciples by your love one for another." That is what Jesus told His followers in John 13. It must have made an impression on John, since the entire book of 1 John does just two things - fight gnosticism and talk about how we should love each other. That is a pretty powerful thought. When people are trying to figure out what you stand for, they should know your beliefs about God by how you love people.
Why would that be such a telling behavior? Think about it - all people should know how to love. They have parents and family and friends and kids. Love should be one of the most common traits in mankind in general. Yet, it is so absent that if we actually loved each other, it would be so startling that immediately people would know that we are Christians. The fact is that love has been counterfeited and damaged and poisoned from the very beginning. Satan attacked that right away, and it soon became selfish. This love that Jesus and John were referring to was not the love that we see on display around us. Those are actually lustful and manipulative and selfish loves. This love is the Agape love that Jesus displayed - unconditional love that would be willing to die for another. THAT is how much we as Christians should love.
Boy, did we blow that. How are Christians known now? How are they recognized? Let's take a look at the defining characteristics of Christians ACCORDING TO THE WORLD.
Judgmental: Christians judge everyone around them (Christian and not). If I realize you don't believe like me, then I judge you. You must not be open to God's leading, since you don't believe like I do. We then try to cram our beliefs down your throat. And this isn't just on big issues. It is on little stuff that the Bible doesn't even address. This leads into the next characteristic.
Hateful: Christians hate those people who do not believe like them. That may be the person who drinks (if you are Baptist), or who sleeps around, or the homosexual, or the liberal Democrat, or the environmentalist, or the abortionist. It isn't just left at judging those people, it becomes a genuine hatred for those people.
Stupid: Christians don't even try to learn about issues, they just spout the Bible out and expect that to suffice. This is seen in the stem cell argument, the evolution/Creation argument, politics and war in general, science across the board. Most Christians completely ignore 1 Peter 3:15 and can't justify their faith at all. When it gets questioned, they get angry and run.
No Fun: Christians can't do anything fun. They can't have sex or drink or do drugs or play cards or dance. They can't go to football games because church is on Sunday.
Hypocrites: They say one thing and do another. They spout verses out and go to church, but act exactly the same at home and at work. They are just as unethical, immoral, vulgar, and angry.
If you don't believe these are true, just watch television or get online. CNN is running a special this week on God's Warriors. It is about extremists in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. They have found these Christians who are militant about their beliefs. They are easy to find, because they are loud and confrontational. I heard one at the Exodus conference - talking about Revolution. Television shows that have run in the last year have had Christians reflecting each of these characteristics. The characters have ranted and railed. They have sold out their faith. They have betrayed each other. They have done everything except love.
And the world is dead on in their assessment. I know this because I spend my life around Christians. I am entering my tenth year working in ministry and church related jobs. In that time, I have seen Christians do some of the most despicable acts to each other. It has been ridiculous. I have seen ministers lie, cheat, and misallocate funds to advance their own agenda. I have seen pastors absolutely DESTROY staff people to keep them in line or punish them for even the smallest infractions. This included telling them that they were incompetent, uneducated, worthless, and unwanted. One minister was called a cancer and another a parasite. Another was told he was lucky to have his job, because he wouldn't be able to get anything else that paid decent. Several young people who were considering entering ministry were given lousy maintenance jobs and told that if they really wanted to serve God, they would do that with joy. Then they were constantly berated and mistreated.
Okay, those were hearsay, right? Well allow me to share MY experiences:
- My job was threatened at my first church job six different times. As in "If this happens again you are fired." My crimes? One time I misspelled a word in the bulletin. Another time I had the wrong paper for a newsletter due to a mistake by our vendor. Another time I was lied to by some other area ministers and got left holding the bag for an event. My worst crime was I confronted the pastor about some questionable spending.
- I was continually told that I could not put the Rev. in front of my name because I was "just a secretary."
- I was ripped a new one during a meeting in front of the rest of the staff because I dared to express the fact that I felt the staff was not a level playing field, and then apologizing for my bad attitude.
- I was mocked for seeing my group's numbers drop when I had just taken over the ministry and was re-organizing it.
- I had a pastor tell me that their church "deserved someone with a seminary degree" instead of me since I didn't have one -which has been echoed several times other places without the snotty attitude.
- By Christians in general, I have been chastised for being too secular for watching too much television, going to too many movies, listening to too much non-Christian music, reading non-Christian books, not homeschooling my kids, going to a public university, letting my wife consider go to medical school, having friends who drink, reading Donald Miller books, going to a big church, and making too many jokes.
- On the flip side, I have also been chastised for being too closed-minded for NOT watching certain TV shows, NOT going to movies with excessive violence or sex, for NOT listening to most music, for NOT reading Harry Potter, for sending my kids to a Christian school instead of a public one, for taking seminary classes at all, for working for a church, for NOT drinking, for NOT liking Rob Bell, for going to a small church now, and for being too negative.
Basically, Christians don't love each other. It is not modelled in church staffs. Pastors usually are using their jobs at larger churches to get more attention so they can have a tv show and book deal and get to speak at conferences. They use business principles for growing their church. They will run over anyone they need to in order to succeed. They teach sermon series on success and prosperity instead of teaching the Gospel. The membership turns on anyone who doesn't agree with them. When a staff person or lay leader leaves, they are shredded by everyone. "There must be something wrong with Person X if they dare to leave our church." If a person comes forward with a sin issue (porn, lust, drinking, anger, abuse) they are ostracized or booted out. They never are restored or lovingly ministered to. Churches consider too much recovery ministry a "bad thing" because it brings too many of the "wrong kind of people" to their church (actual position from a church conference).
In the mean time, the world outside the church doors sees all of this and wonders why in tarnation they would EVER go inside. They are already reviled by the church, and it doesn't seem as if it is going to change if they join it. I am so tired of this. I have wanted to post something like this for a long time. But I have been afraid about if someone who is not churched reading my post and getting angry at God. Then I thought about it - they already know this. They already see it. They already have been judged and hated and insulted by Christians. They already feel unloved by the very people who should be known for their love. The Early Church was actually so loving that people around them accused them of being lewd - because no one could understand how perfect strangers could care so much about each other without sex playiing a part. Today, that is so far from true. Today, if Christians actually tried to market themselves as loving, the people around would think it was a joke. I know I would, and I work within the church world.
We aren't told to do service projects to prove how much we love the world - so we can trick them into coming and getting saved. We aren't told to call ourselves "The Loving Place" so we don't actually have to follow through. We are told that we should be known by how much we love EACH OTHER. If you are incapable of loving and caring for your own family, how can you possibly think you can love anyone else? I guess that some things that have happened in MY world lately have really made this a point to consider. I have witnessed some of the ugliest and hateful behavior committed by Christians in the past couple weeks that I have ever seen in my life. Supposedly Godly men have lied, backstabbed, and blackballed to protect themselves - from accusations that were 100% true. I also found out that one of the most hateful and vicious people I ever met in church work is actually 2nd in command at one of the largest Baptist churches in America now. I had heard he was run out of ministry for his viciousness. Turns out he was promoted. This has always been the biggest challenge for me being in the church world - you know too much. You see too much. And you get beat up, hated, and mistreated too much.
I don't want this post to be a rant or just blowing off steam. I hope that it convicts you. It convicted me. I get very angry and judgmental - especially when someone questions my writing or my work. Those things are very personal to me. I am pouring myself out and when you read my stuff or use my projects, you are kind of getting to know who I am. So, when I face criticism, I am overly sensitive. And that turns to anger. I guess I battle thinking that if people don't like what I wrote or generated, that it means there is no use in it. I question what gives me the right to put my opinions out there anyway. I'm just a 33 year old with no seminary degree and minimal "useful experience." So I want people to like my stuff. And if they don't I feel like it invalidates my writing it - and in some ways invalidates me. You can think that is stupid if you want. I don't care. That is how I feel - and it is stupid. I have as much right to say my thoughts as the other 55 million bloggers. And I need to get over it. I need to be more loving - to those who disagree with me, to those who hurt me, to those who hurt people I care about, to people different than me. I hope that maybe this will make you take stock too. If we are supposed to be recognized by our love, and we aren't loving, that what the heck are we even here for? How are we supposed to represent God and bring Him glory if we don't even look like Him. He IS love. Maybe we should think about that fact for a while and see if that changes anything. I hope it does.