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by Jacob Ninan
What does the world think about us Christians?
Some people do recognise the many contributions Christians have made to society such as starting hospitals, schools and colleges, and the sacrificial service to needy people like orphans, the destitute, lepers, HIV-AIDS patients, alcoholics, drug addicts, etc. Some people are upset with Christians who they think are going around 'converting' people from other religions. But is it not true that most people generally think of Christians merely as those who follow the teachings of Jesus as other people follow their different teachers? It seems to them that apart from this distinction Christians are just like anyone else. For example, the famous writer Voltaire said, "When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion!" Mahatma Gandhi said, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." We are just like anyone else. History will not let us forget the military crusades between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries aimed at restoring Christian access to holy places held by the Muslims, or the inquisitions of the twelfth century that tortured and executed heretics. The present days are filled with stories of politicking, power mongering, empire building, embezzlements, fraudulent financial practices, court cases, inter-denominational quarrels, immorality, etc., not sporadically by the odd Christian here or there but even on large scales among churches and Christian organisations. Don't we have to admit with shame that indeed we Christians are just like the others?
Of course the world is not in a position to make a distinction among genuine and nominal Christians. We can shout ourselves hoarse by trying to explain the difference, and even then we are not able to alter the public opinion. The public will 'judge us by our fruit' no matter what explanations we may have with us. The problem is not with the public perception but what we display to the public. It is there that we have failed.
The solution is not to try and change the way we appear to the public or to undertake a public relations campaign, because the roots of the problem are much deeper - we have become rotten in our core. And bad trees can only produce bad fruit. Dealing with rotten fruit may be effective as an immediate measure (unfortunately often that also does not get done), but that will not stop the tree from bearing such fruit again.
It is not as though the rottenness is in the rank and file of Christians while the leadership is trying its best to clean up the mess. It is the corruption in the top places that stands out in the public eye and provides an 'encouraging' example for the common man to follow their footsteps. How did such people get into these positions of leadership in the churches and organisations? With their theological degrees, leadership qualities and politicking, while lacking badly in their core values!
Unlike all other religions where people have to only follow certain teachings and external practices, Christianity begins with and exists on a personal relationship with God through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus. Only those who have such a relationship should have the right and privilege to be called Christians. Getting into such a relationship with God is through a process Jesus called 'being born again'. He made it very clear that unless a man is 'born again' he cannot even 'see' the kingdom of God let alone enter it (Jn.3:3,5). In other words, he is not a Christian. When we are born again God changes our whole life's outlook from inside, and we begin to experience a personal love for God and a desire to be pleasing to Him, a change in our attitude towards all forms of sin, an attraction towards God's word and His people, etc. We begin to 'see' God and life in a way that was not possible earlier, as John Newton says in his famous song 'Amazing grace', "I once was blind but now I see." It is certainly not that such 'born again' Christians are perfect in any sense or that non-Christians cannot find things wrong with them. But the life of God which they have received as a small seed helps them to grow up increasingly into the life of God that can also be seen by the others.
The Christian church has grown up as a mixture of 'wheat and tares' - those who have truly experienced the transforming power of salvation and others who are Christians only in name. "When the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also" (Matt.13:26). It is only when genuine Christians are present that nominal Christians become obvious by contrast. But does it not look now as if the tares far outnumber the wheat? As Jesus said, it is dangerous to try and clean up by identifying and removing the tares, because in the early stages of growth both wheat and tares may look alike, and we do not want to end up destroying the wheat also.
Jesus says that 'an enemy' plants the tares when the workmen are sleeping (Matt.13:25). When the evangelist lowers the standard and widens the gate so that his numbers can improve, many who really have not even heard of repentance from sin or faith in God or experienced any change of heart begin to consider themselves as those who have been born again, just because they raised their hands, repeated some words of prayer, or signed cards. Is this not a double death for those who were 'dead in sin' to consider themselves to be alive even when they continue in death? Why would they now seek to respond to the Gospel when they have begun to assume now that the Gospel is for others?
Teachers, instead of clarifying what it means to be born again and correcting the errors that are being propagated, are seeking to be popular, impressing their hearers with entertaining messages about '666', so-called Bible codes, Biblical numerology (!), etc., which even tares can enjoy!
Instead of warning the church about the wrong direction it has taken, prophets are busy trying to be soothsayers for the multitude who would like to know whom they should marry, which job they should take, etc.
Pastors who should be worried about the problems which the people in their churches are experiencing because they do not know God personally are content to give stories or motivational pep talks and skirt around serious issues lest any should leave their churches.
If born again evangelists, teachers, prophets and pastors are doing this, what can we expect from leaders who themselves have no personal experience with God?
Can we 'ordinary Christians' sit around thinking that all the blame is on our leaders while we are not taking care to present a clear witness to the people around us, to share our testimony, or to evangelise, teach, prophesy and shepherd others around us on a personal basis? We are the majority, and the leaders are fewer in number, and it is we who form a major part of the face of Christianity before the world, especially to our neighbours who live next door.
The problem is massive, and the blame is collectively on all of us. The solution appears to be possible only if all of us, or a large number of us, wake up and take our lives and responsibilities seriously.
-- Published in the Light of Life magazine, April 2013
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