People don’t know who Christians are, and I think that’s largely because people don’t know what it actually means to be a Christian. As a result, a lot of people think that they represent Christianity, when they … just don’t. Nonchristians see the disparity between people who are actually Christian and people who claim Christianity, and confusion ensues.
For an example, one person I know (and respect, actually) claims that he was raised as a Christian, but when given a chance, is free to condemn Christianity… while never praising Christ. There’s nothing wrong with the former, honestly; Christianity isn’t perfect by any measure that I can see. (Our righteousness – such that it is – comes from Christ, not the church itself.)
There’s nothing wrong with saying that Christianity isn’t perfect – but there’s a lot wrong with not showing Christ in how you live.
Another person proclaimed that Christians – sorry, “Christians” – he knew had told him that he’d be a great Christian despite his atheism, because of his attitude toward the poor and disenfranchised. I suppose that he – and they – thought that a liberal outlook makes one a Christian worthy of the label. This same person said that Christians didn’t bother him – but evangelicals did.
I’m horrified by both people. (Well, not by the people, but by their attitudes towards Christianity.) I can’t judge the former person’s life – they say they’re Christian because they were “raised Christian,” but I can’t say that they don’t have a relationship with Christ. They just don’t show it much. (And obviously the atheist would claim otherwise in any event.)
The first fellow is someone who thinks he’s a Christian because he’s been told he’s a Christian – he’s been labeled, and he accepts that label because it fits into the narrative of his life. Rejecting that label would become a rejection of his own past, so he doesn’t evaluate whether the label was applied properly or not – and since he doesn’t actually care about Christianity, he does no investigation to understand whether the label was justified.
The latter person is one whom I struggle to understand, and honestly, that’s an aspect where Christianity has truly failed: this is an intelligent person who misunderstands the simple axioms that make Christianity what it is. Christianity has failed this person on a grand scale, by not being clear about itself. (See? I have no problem criticizing Christianity! What a Christian I am!)
Here’s the thing. Christianity is not:
- Feeding the hungry.
- Housing the poor.
- Healing the sick.
- Teaching the uneducated.
- Sheltering the homeless.
- Having an individual relationship with Christ such that you believe He died for your sins.
If you are a Christian, then it follows that you might feed the hungry, or house the poor, or heal the sick, or teach the uneducated, or shelter the homeless – because those are the things that flow from the love of Christ reflected through you. But people who say that they’re Christian because they do those things – who make the relationship with Christ optional – aren’t really espousing the love of Christ.
They’re acting Christian, not being Christian.
A Christian can be a Christian while doing none of those things – but a Christian also lives for Christ, such that others might see Christ in them. And Christ loved everyone, enough to die for them… and loving someone means feeding them when they’re hungry, or housing them, or … helping them, showing them the love of Christ actively.
That’s how they’ll come to Christ, through that act of worship. Just helping someone, with no motivation of Christ, is better than doing nothing, I suppose, but the motive of a Christian should always be the display of the love of Christ.
And I don’t mean forcing it down someone’s throat, either. Loving someone through Christ means showing them the love of Christ, not telling someone about it, especially if there are contextual reasons they might not accept the words – imagine helping someone who’s been victimized by the church, for example.
My prayer is that people would understand Christianity for themselves, and then live it.