Our church staff was looking at this article yesterday, which articulates some data from the Barna research people about how Christians are perceived by those who are not. I wonder if the real Jesus, not the one conservatives and liberals have fabricated, would be perceived as boring (remember when he walked on water, remember the accusation that he went to the wrong parties, the ones with unreligious people), or judgmental (remember the women caught in adultery who, in accordance with Levitical law should have been stoned, and he found a way to forgive her?), or insensitive to others? The people who hated him the most were the religious experts – seminary trained, with big Bibles that they used to prove to themselves that Jesus was a heretic worthy of death (John 5:39, Acts 13:27). They’re the only people Jesus angered, at least until those people nearly incited a riot in their efforts to get him killed. Then Rome stepped and helped put him to death.
The normal run of the mill people though? They seemed drawn to the man, which is baffling because they’re not generally drawn to his body on earth today, the church. Why is this?
Of course, this could be a huge conversation, because there are many reasons. But let’s tackle just one: We’ve become, frankly, rather utilitarian in our approach to relating to God, each other, and the world. What do I mean? I mean that we may well have the right ‘WORDS’ about the sin nature of humankind, and our need for reconciliation with God, which has been miraculously provided through the incarnation and death of Jesus (I John 2:1,2). All of this is good and true, but it’s sort of like a house without any beauty (see the attached movie). The ‘gospel’ is good news, not only because it gets us justified… it’s good news because God is reconciling people to Himself and each other, breaking down dividing walls. If we start breaking down walls too, by reaching across doctrinal divides, not to shoot our brothers but to share and learn from each other, we’ll add the beauty to the message. The gospel is good news because the entire earth is going to be transformed (Romans 8, Ephesians 1:10,11), and so we can embody a little glimpse of this earth renewal by caring for our environment because God cares for His creation and we’re in His family. The gospel is good news because, according to Luke 4, people are healed, debts are forgiven, captives are set free. Unless you want to spiritualize all of that, and turn those things into a tract about getting to heaven, then maybe we ought to be working to set people free who are caught in human trafficking, and feeding the hungry, digging wells and opening clinics. This stuff is beautiful.
Instead, we’re boycotting Old Navy, not because of unjust labor practices, but because they don’t say “Merry Christmas” in their ads. This is more than embarassing, it’s angering. It’s just another exercise in missing the point, and our house continues, to look to the world, like a prison camp filled with boring haters, rather than a welcoming home, the place where the beauty is so inviting we can’t help ourselves… we’re drawn. This is what the church is supposed to be, and can be. But only if we start behaving like Jesus. Until then, we’ll continue to be like the people Jesus struggled with the most: religious prigs.