They Will Know We Are Christians By Our … Politics? (RJS)

ChurchDespite the title this isn’t a post about the current US presidential election – although I hope it gets people thinking about how they frame their position, whatever that may be. In fact, the title may distract from the theme of the post. But it is an attention grabber.

“They,” that is the non-Christians in our increasingly diverse and secular culture, will not know we are Christians by our political affiliation. They will  not know we are Christians by the logic of our words, by our fancy buildings, popular orators, rules, or philosophical arguments.

They will know we are Christians by the way we live. Christianity will also be defined (in their minds at least) by the way we live. Try asking people some time “What is the first word that comes to mind when I say Christian?”

It goes beyond this though. They will know that Christianity is true (or not) by the way Christians live.

One of the commenters on Tuesday’s post Testable Faith made a point worth a good deal of consideration.

Should our views be verifiable or at the very least subject to falsification on matters of faith?

I think yes. And can give you some examples of how that could work.

If the claims of Scripture are true, we should see a qualitative difference between Christians filled with the spirit and non-Christians in the “world.” We should see “fruits” of the spirit. Light and salt. In a way that is striking by way of comparison. And this should be even more pronounced the more devout one is in their faith. In a way that does not compare with how devout one is in another non-Christian faith.

Subjectively, one ought be able to say something qualitatively more compelling in their Christian “testimony” than the sincere “testimonies” of those from other faiths.

We should see greater wisdom and discernment in devout Christian communities than those of other faiths or non-faith.

Greater wisdom and discernment perhaps, but only in the areas where Christian faith claims to make a difference. At very least we should see an intentional Spirit-powered desire in Christian community to live by the commandments taught in Scripture. I don’t mean details of purity laws, but the overarching commandment as expressed by Jesus, that permeates much of the Old Testament (especially the prophets) and all of the New Testament.

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mk 12:29-31) (See also Mt 22:36-40, Lk 10:25-28)

In Mt 22 Jesus concludes “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  These two commandments are to guide the shape of our lives as individuals and in Christian community.  We are called to love God and to love others … especially (but not only) those most in need of love: the poor, the sick, the oppressed, the powerless, the displaced.

There are many passages in the New Testament that can be used to emphasize the importance of love and character formation in Christian life (See It is a Conundrum Pt. 1 for a partial list).

John makes it clear that love is from God.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 Jn 4:7-8)

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. We love because he first loved us. (1 Jn 4:16)

Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Ga 5:19-26)

In his book Vanishing Grace, Philip Yancey writes about his conversations with a range of people:

When I ask, “Tell me the first word that comes to your mind when I say “Christian,” not one time has someone suggested the word love. Yet without question that is the proper biblical answer.” As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” Jesus commanded his disciples at the Last Supper. He said the world will know we are Christians – and, moreover, will know who he is – when his followers are united in love. (p. 35)

This isn’t an optional command, it is supposed to be the central feature of Christian community. In fact, as far as the world is concerned it should be the defining characteristic, our best apologetic, and the most significant verification of the truth of our faith.

There has been a lot of hand wringing of late over the decline of Christian influence in America. The drop in church attendance is no longer limited to liberal churches.  The Southern Baptist convention in June was accompanied by a series of stories … Southern Baptists see 9th year of membership decline, or this story Southern Baptist Convention Membership and Attendance on Decline, but Church Planting on Rise with more details. Over the last year membership is down 1.3%, baptisms 3.3%, average weekly attendance 1.7%, Small Group/Bible Study/Sunday School 3.2 %. The realization of this trend has given rise to many articles, books and blog posts outlining ways to counter the trend (make the church great again!). Generally these are focused on doctrine, performance, and seeker sensitivity.

Perhaps instead we need to focus on our greatest commandment – to live in the Spirit and be a people shaped by love for God and love for others.  This doesn’t conveyed by words, but in actions. It isn’t a call to social justice, or to any particular political solution. It starts with the personal one-on-one interactions and moves into a total focus of life. A focus on doctrine needs to be accompanied by an equally determined focus on the great commandment to love … from the least to the greatest, or it is as Paul tells us nothing but noisy gongs and clanging cymbals, “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.’

What do you think?

Is Christian faith verified by the witness of Christians?

If so, what does this have to say about the state of the church or the truth of our faith?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

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