Really good fiction may not be a true story, but the best fiction is always truth. For example, In the novel Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier, there is a startling and insightful commentary on the failure of self-identified Christians to live up to the faith we all profess. In the early nineteenth century, a Christian group offered to provide Cherokee Indians in the Blue Ridge mountains some Bible stories translated and written in the Cherokee syllabary. Before agreeing to the distribution of these stories, the Cherokee leader, Bear, asked for samples of Bible stories, which he heard with some interest. Describing the outcome, the author concludes the matter this way:
In the end, [Bear] said he judged the Bible to be a sound book. Nevertheless, he wondered why the white people were not better than they are, having had it for so long. He promised that just as soon as white people achieved Christianity, he would recommend it to his own folks. p. 21
Any Christian who has talked with very many people about what it means to be Christian has heard a similar response. Most people express it by saying that they don’t want to be Christians because of all the hypocrites in the church. They, like Bear, want all the people who claim to be Christians to “achieve” Christianity before they themselves undertake it.
Jesus warned Christians that this would be a problem when he told his disciples that their love for each other would be a mark of his reign in their lives. In another place he said that we should do good works in such a way that it made people praise God, not us. Jesus expected people to watch his followers and notice what they did and what they did not do. We should all be alert to the fact that our lives are viewed by people as the expression of our relationships with Christ, or the lack thereof. Christians regularly bemoan the fact that people who do not know Christ use imperfect Christians as an excuse to reject Him.
This is why all of us should be very careful to point to Christ, not ourselves. It is Christ we offer to people for their salvation, not ourselves. It isn’t even the church. The church, the family of Christ, is a good thing, but it isn’t Christ. People are not saved by the church; they are saved by Christ. Those who are saved by Christ fellowship with him and with other believers in the church.
People who reject Christ because of their issues with some of Christ’s followers are looking at the wrong standard. The only way we can hope to get past that problem is by seeking the character trait of humility. We know that John was right when he wrote, “what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is”(1 John 3:2 ESV). We know that we are not perfect.
When we invite people into Christ’s kingdom, we must point them to Christ, not to other Christians. Yet, we all are called to live a faithful testimony to Christ, and that means we must be as much like him as we can manage. People do not all mature at the same rate, so it takes longer for some people, but if we keep our own eyes on Jesus, all of us should certainly demonstrate growth, even if we don’t demonstrate perfection. We must resist the temptation to try to pretend we are anything but works in progress. One of the reasons churches traditionally have spires, arches, and lofty windows is that designers want them to point people’s attention away from earthly things to heavenly things.
When Christ was about to ascend to heaven, some of his followers gathered to be with him. Not one of them was a perfect example of what a Christian should be. Each was a flawed, but redeemed, individual. Jesus did not say, “When you become perfect, then go into all the world.” He said, “Go . . . and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV). Imperfect though we are, we are chosen. We, the imperfect, must go ahead and share with the world that good news that Christ died and is alive in order to save sinful, imperfect human beings. We don’t run ahead of sinners and cry out, “Follow me!” We walk beside them and say, “Let’s go to Jesus.”
By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.
photo credit: 20140911-DSC02640 Teweksbury Abbey Gloucestershire.jpg via photopin (license)