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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

How and Why Jesus is Un-Christian (a point of view)

Unchristian: “Will the real Jesus please stand up?”

by Pastor Jay Morgan

Thisis some follow up thoughts to the past few talks I have given. Make sure you read all the way through to the solution at the end. Peace, Pastor J

If you ARE Christian, please process this talk carefully. I think that there’s a lot that we can learn here. If you are NOT a Christian, I would encourage you to listen and process as well. The reasons that you do not embrace Christ may not actually be wrong! Maybe you need to learn to distinguish between Christ and some “Christians” that you have rightfully rejected.

The world is teetering on the edge of unprecedented problems and disaster. People are hungry for help and are desperately seeking answers. I believe that the church has the true answer to the world today, yet people are not looking to us for help. As a matter of fact, there are many indications that Christianity in America is on a rather rapid decline.

For example, the percentage of self-identifying Christians has fallen 10 points over the last decade (down to 76 percent). According to a recent Newsweek Poll, the percentage of people who think that America is “a Christian Nation” has dropped 7 percent in the last year (down to 62 percent). And the percent of those who say that religion “can answer all or most of today’s problems” is at a historic low – down to 48 percent (it never dropped below 58 percent until the last few years).

The following was reported in TIME/CNN article entitled, Christianity’s Image Problem, by David Van Biema, October 2007. (Also more information can be found in a Barna article entitled,, A New Generation Expresses its Skepticism and Frustration with Christianity)

Back in 1996, a poll taken by the Barna Group, found that 83% of Americans identified themselves as Christians, and that fewer than 20% of non-Christians held an unfavorable view of Christianity. But, as David Kinnaman puts it in his new book (co-authored with Gabe Lyons) UnChristian, “That was then.”

Barna polls conducted between 2004 and this year, among people aged 16 to 29, found that 38% had a “bad impression” of present-day Christianity and just 16% said they have a “good impression” of Christianity

Not only has the decline in non-Christians’ regard for Christianity been severe, but Barna results also show a rapid increase in the number of people describing themselves as non-Christian. Simply put, each new generation has a larger share of people who are not Christians (that is, atheists, agnostics, people associated with another faith, or those who have essentially no faith orientation). Among the 16 to 29 segment, two-fifths are outsiders. (outside the Christian faith). As pointed out in the Barna Update related to atheists and agnostics, this is not a passing fad wherein young people will become “more Christian” as they grow up.

Kinnaman says non-Christians’ biggest complaints about the faith are not immediately theological: Jesus and the Bible get relatively good marks. Rather, he sees resentment as focused on perceived Christian attitudes.

As one person interviewed in the book, Unchristian stated.

Most people I meet assume that Christian means very conservative, entrenched in their thinking, antigay, antichoice, angry, violent, illogical, empire builders; they want to convert everyone, and they generally cannot live peaceably with anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe.”

Another Barna report reveals the following.

One reason why evangelical churches across the nation are not growing is due to the image that non-Christian adults have of evangelical individuals. In a nationwide survey released by Barna, among people who do not consider themselves to be Christian, the image of “evangelicals” rated tenth out of eleven groups evaluated, beating out only prostitutes. (They did give “born-again” Christians a high ranking yet could not distinguish the difference between, “born again Christians and Evangelical Christians!) From the Barna Report, Surprisingly Few Adults Outside of Christianity Have a Positive Views of Christians

Bottom line: The church is known primarily for what we are against and not so much for what we are for.

Now the knee-jerk reaction of many Christians is to point out that we should be hated by the world if we being truly loyal to Jesus. Yes, you will be persecuted for truly following Jesus, however I feel that the majority of people who are disdaining and deserting the church are NOT doing so because of the teachings of Jesus. They are doing so because of the actions of the church itself. Because of this, the church is failing miserably in fulfilling Christ’s commission to go into all the world and make disciples of HIM.

Acclaimed author Brian McLaren states, “More and more Christian leaders are beginning to realize that for the millions of young adults who have recently dropped out of church, Christianity is a failed religion. Why? Because it has specialized in dealing with ’spiritual needs’ to the exclusion of physical and social needs. It has focused on ‘me’ and ‘my eternal destiny,’ but it has failed to address the dominant societal and global realities of their lifetime: systemic injustice, poverty, and dysfunction.” McLaren asks, “Shouldn’t a message purporting to be the best news in the world be doing better than this?”

In other words, the world is searching for answers, Jesus gave the answers, yet we are not even invited to the discussion because we appear to have nothing to say!

I will now outline 5 ways that the church has hindered the Kingdom of God. (I was originally going to title this talk- “Jesus keeps getting me in trouble with Christians!”) Then I will end the talk with what I believe is the solution.

1. The church has tried unsuccessfully to short-cut bringing Jesus’ Kingdom by gaining political influence in a kingdom of this world, something Jesus himself rejected.

Michael Spencer in his recent article, published in the Christian Monitor notes that “[w]e fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.” Even some of the staunchest guards of conservative Evangelicalism are beginning to see this.
For example, Alert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, concedes that “[t]he worst fault of evangelicals in terms of politics over the last 30 years has been an incredible naiveté about politics and politicians and parties.” Manifesting typical Constantinian triumphalism, many conservative American Christians naively thought we could transform American society in a “Christian” direction by acquiring political power to enforce our (self-proclaimed) superior views on selected topics (especially abortion, gay marriage, creationism in schools and stem cell research) on the broader culture. It has not gone well, to say the least.

After 40 years of intense political involvement, Evangelicals have little positive to show for their efforts. To the contrary, we’ve arguably only succeeded in getting multitudes of non-Christians [or simply non-Evangelicals] to disdain us and the “Good News” message we’re supposed to be bringing. GO to the blog entry entitled Which Story Defines You? for a detailed look at this.

2. Many of the issues that the church has made a “big deal” about, Jesus was silent about, and furthermore, many of the issues that Jesus made a big deal about, the church is silent about.

We seem to worship the “idea” of Jesus more than we worship Him and live out his teachings.

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

In 2006, The Christian church spent tens of thousands of dollars to keep a picture of Jesus hanging in a Bridgeport High School, yet I wonder how much money they put into feeding the hungry kids in that school?

Also in 2006, during her world tour, Madonna performed the song Live To Tell while suspended from a giant mirrored cross. Images of poverty in the developing world were shown on video screens, while numbers ticked away to represent the 12 million African children orphaned by Aids. Madonna later stated that she was trying to appeal to Jesus and his teachings to get action out of the Christian church concerning these issues. The Christian church went into action alright, they went into action protesting her performance on a mirrored cross with little or no word about the suffering children she was advocating for. Because of the backlash, when NBC aired the concert, they did not show Madonna on the cross. The American church felt they had won a major victory and that their job was finished.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know that Madonna does a lot of things for shock value and she is by no means the moral champion of the world. (Side Note: If you watched any of that performance on TV, there were dozens of more offensive things allowed to be displayed over the air during Prime Time TV that should have been protested if people were really trying to be the “moral” police. However, I am not suggesting that protesting and being the “moral police” is what Christ is calling us to do, I am merely pointing out the hypocrisy! )

But what would have been the big issue to Jesus, Madonna on a mirrored cross or millions of suffering, dying children? And may I point out, that it’s a sad commentary on the church’s effectiveness when Madonna has to remind us that our Lord and Savior taught us that WE should be the ones caring for the “least of these!”.

We really seem to pick and choose the sins we focus on and the ways that we show our spirituality.

We claim that a way to show the world that we are Christians is if we pray publicly before we eat, but the amount that we eat is not considered a sin, not to mention how much food we waste while thousands of children die daily from starvation. Which is the bigger issue? (not to mention that Jesus taught us NOT to use public prayers as a way to show our spirituality! Matthew 6:5-6)

We preach sermons and look down on people who use certain “choice” words, yet consider it completely acceptable and sometimes see it as a sign of spirituality when we slander, gossip and condemn others with our words.

We are quick to teach our youth that being addicted to alcohol is sin, but what do we teach them about the dangers associated with the sins of materialism and greed? (Jesus had a lot to say about these things, by the way!)

3. Christ was clearly against some issues that the church supports.

Take the issue of prejudice, for example. Jesus himself associated with and ministered to Romans and Samaritans., whom Jews hated due to their race. He even went as far as to make them the heroes of his stories (the Good Samaritan Story in Luke 10:29-37) and even on one occasion stated that a Roman had better faith than anyone in all of Israel. (Matthew 8:8-10) So Jesus clearly taught racial reconciliation with His life and his early followers later picked up this same theme. (Gal 3:28)

But note this about Ghandi’s reaction to the Christian Church, when questioned why he did not follow Christ, Ghandi’s response was “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

It has been said that Ghandi’s rejection of Christianity grew out of an incident that happened when he was a young man practicing law in South Africa. He had become attracted to the Christian faith, had studied the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, and was seriously exploring becoming a Christian. And so he decided to attend a church service. As he came up the steps of the large church where he intended to go, a white South African elder of the church barred his way at the door. “Where do you think you’re going, kaffir (a racial slur)?” the man asked Ghandi in a belligerent tone of voice. Ghandi replied, “I’d like to attend worship here.” The church elder snarled at him, “There’s no room for kaffirs in this church. Get out of here or I’ll have my assistants throw you down the steps.”

From that moment, Ghandi said, he decided to adopt what good he found in Christianity, but would never again consider becoming a Christian if it meant being part of the church

See, Jesus IS the answer, but that doesn’t mean that the church always presents Him!

(Some studies actually show that racism and wife abuse actually seem to be higher among evangelical Christians than non-Christians. See The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscious,p 17-29 Ronald J Sider)

4. The attitude with which we share the “truth” many times is, hateful, condescending and judgmental.
On some of these issues, we may be right but if we approach them in hateful ways, we negate our effectiveness. It is really hard to bring change to someone by standing away from them and insulting them. I believe the only real chance of bringing change to most people, is to get to know them, “enter their story”, and over time help them process their issues through the love of God.

2 Tim. 2:24 (NIV) And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. (ouch!)

Philip. 2:5-8 (NIV) Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: [6] Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, [7] but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. [8] And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!

Matthew 7:1-2 (NIV) “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. [2] For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. CHeck out the Judgement Blog for more on addressing sin without being judgmental

5. I believe that the biggest hindrances to Jesus’ Kingdom today are Christians who acknowledge Christ with their lips, yet deny him with their lives.

Notice this excerpt from Growing True Disciples by George Barna

Jesus is seeking people who are absolutely serious about becoming new creations in Him. In the original biblical texts, the term used for disciple refers to someone who is a learner or follower who serves as an apprentice under the tutelage of a master. The apostles are great examples of this relationship between student and master: They followed Jesus, the master teacher and model of the Christian faith, learning from His words and deeds and growing through the practical hands-on training He facilitated. Discipleship connotes that you are being prepared for a particular lifestyle more than for a specialized occupation. (Check out the blog entitled Oxen, Dust, Lepers and the Kingdom of God for more information about rabbis and disciples)

May we never forget that WE are Christ in flesh. (1 Corinthians 12:27) Our actions, and our inactivity, states to the world what Jesus does and does not care about. That’s why Jesus asked, “Why do you call me Lord, and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)

I fear that we have used the grace of God as an excuse to keep on sinning and refusing to change. We continue to hold on to our old patterns of destructive behavior, our socially taught prejudices, and our self-focused apathy, even though Jesus and the early disciples clearly taught and lived differently.

We have falsely assumed that grace means that God overlooks sin and doesn’t care if we do it. Scripture clearly warns against this attitude. I am not simply talking about your stance on alcohol or cursing. I am also talking about the overlooked “Christian” sins of judgement, gossip, apathy, greed and prejudice.

Romans 6:1-4, 6 (NIV) What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? [2] By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? [3] Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? [4] We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. [6] For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin–

Remember that the reason that Jesus came was to save you from your sins, and to free you to love God and others and to use you to change and heal the world.

I am not suggesting that perfection can be achieved in our fleshly bodies, I do, however, believe that Scripture insists that we war against any thought, idea or action that is not like Christ. (2 Cor 10:5)

I do believe that Scripture insists that we must become new creatures in Christ. (2 Cor 5:17)

I do believe that Jesus himself taught that we must completely lose our self to follow Him. (Matt 10:39, Luke 14:33)

This means we must work, through the power of the Holy Spirit, on changing the things in our character that are not like him. This means NO MORE EXCUSES! This means that we understand that there is a BETTER life waiting when we follow Jesus wholeheartedly! It’s the life we were created for.

Although most Americans consider themselves to be Christian and say they know the content of the Bible, less than one out of ten Americans demonstrate such knowledge through their actions
- George Barna

The Solution

The way to really bring change to the world is by just simply doing it. (It meaning, the teachings of Jesus, which embodies the change the world needs to see.).

It is easy to criticize the world for not seeing our truth. It is easy to criticize Christians for blocking the world’s view of Christ, but, the real issue to be grappled with is this. Am I, personally, embodying Christ to the world?

An example of being Christ in Flesh

Being Pro-Life —- Kingdom Style

An unmarried 18 year old woman, whom I’ll call Becky, became pregnant. She was afraid to tell her strict Christian parents because she was convinced they would disown her in disgrace and make her move out of the house. This in turn would jeopardize her plans to attend college and fulfill her dream of becoming a veterinarian. Consequently, she planned to have an abortion.

Becky confided in a friend of the family, whom I’ll call Dorothy, a middle-aged, divorced woman who over the years had developed a special friendship with Becky. When Becky told Dorothy of her plan, Dorothy didn’t give her a moralistic speech or perform a moral interrogation. She offered help. If Becky chose to have an abortion, Dorothy offered to help her through postabortion recovery. But, believing that it was in everyone’s best interest to refrain from a violent solution and to rather go full term with this child, Dorothy lovingly encouraged Becky to think seriously about her planned course of action. Even more importantly, she offered to do whatever it took to make going full term feasible.

If Becky’s parents kicked her out of the house (which consequently they actually did), Dorothy offered her basement as a place to stay. It wasn’t much, but it was something. Whatever financial and emotional support needed throughout her pregnancy, Dorothy would provide as best as she was able. She ended up taking out a second mortgage on her house. If Becky wanted to the give the baby up for adoption, Dorothy would help her with this. If Becky wanted to keep the child (which she ended up doing), Dorothy would help her with this as well. She became the godmother. And on top of this, Dorothy promised to work with Becky to make it financially possible to pursue her dream of becoming a veterinarian. As a result, Becky went through with the pregnancy, moved in with Dorothy, and pursued her dream part-time, while both she and Dorothy raised her adorable daughter.

This, I believe, is an example of being pro-life kingdom style. Dorothy was willing to bleed to ascribe worth to Becky and her unborn child. It was her way of saying, “You and your baby are worth this much to me.” Dorothy’s decision wasn’t rooted in any of the complex, ambiguous issues that pro-life and pro-choice groups argue over. She frankly didn’t claim to know what the metaphysical status of the unborn child was at a given state in its development. Like most Americans, Dorothy has a sense that the use of the morning after pill wasn’t quite a tragic as partial birth abortions or infant killing - but she couldn’t articulate exactly why she felt this or say when the magic moment that made the fetus a full human happened. But in terms of her relationship with Becky, this didn’t matter. She only believed it is better to affirm life whenever possible rather than terminate it, and she was willing to communicate this conviction in any way she could- by paying a price.

(From The Myth of a Christian Nation, Gregory Boyd)

May we never forget that Christianity is not just a statement of doctrinal belief, it is not just an emotional experience in church, it is a “serving” way of life called for and made possible by Jesus Christ.

After all, you can fake and copycat an experience, but it’s real hard to fake sacrificial LOVE! May I also state that the real test of a belief system is the kind of person that it produces.

If our lives do not scream volumes about what we believe, then perhaps it is useless for us to use words at all. Or as St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach wherever you go, and when necessary, use words.”

So because of the goodness of God in our life, we should serve the world that he loved and died for! We have to live it out!

Philip. 2:1-8 (NIV)
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, [2] then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. [3] Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. [4] Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
[5] Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

[6] Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
[7] but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
[8] And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death–
even death on a cross!

A Final Thought: Maybe these false versions of Christianity need to die out, so that they quit distracting from Jesus and his beautiful Kingdom!

Questions for Reflection

1. How have I fallen victim to the lie that says that I can short cut bringing God’s Kingdom by politically forcing what I believe is right (Whether it actually is or not!) on others?

2. What are some examples of things that Jesus made a “big deal” about, but the modern American church seems to remain silent on. (Or actually practices the opposite of Christ’s teaching?)

3. How has my attitude toward the world been unlike Christ?

4. What are ways for me to LIVE the answer to the issues of poverty, racial reconciliation, world-hunger and abortion (or others!)?

1 comment:

  1. I will heartily endorse most of your beautifully written letter. Yes those vicious Christian traits are the most deadly sins against GOD and mankind. The same for any other Religion that sees itself as the object (reason) rather than a tool of The Master.

    He Is The Potter; we are the broken clay pots. Can a broken clay pot tell the Potter how best to repair or fashion it for The Potters Purpose?

    Practicing Jesus Christ, Paul (not saul) and His other Apostles is a very different basket of Fish, than what is bandied about as being Christ like today.

    My differences are not with anything you wrote; more with perspective of we need to cease from our righteous works and wait on Jesus Christ to Complete His Work. That is not important enough to stop me from recognizing and supporting a fellow worker in GOD'S GARDEN.