Monday, August 27, 2012


It happens far too often. We hear stories like the one my non-Christian friend shared with me last week where someone she knows was turned away from a local church and asked to leave the property because it "looked bad" that she was crying in front of their building.

Of course, the woman’s daughter was missing, she was close to losing her apartment due to HUD restrictions limiting her ability to care for her grand daughter, and she needed help with food and clothes for this little one. Luckily, this elderly woman, with her grandchild in tow, ended up down the street at a secular organization which fed her grand child, referred her to a food bank, and even put some cash in her hand while the volunteers behind the counter scrambled to find clothing for the little girl and a dedicated social worker to help her with housing needs.

What’s wrong with this picture? How could the woman with the hungry grandchild be turned away by the people who profess to follow someone who said “Whatever you’ve done for the least of these you’ve done it to me”, and receive help from those who do not?

It’s almost a modern day Good Samaritan story, isn’t it? Except that it’s not a story. It’s real.

So, how is it that Christians can be so insensitive and mean? What’s going on here?

In this short series of articles to follow, I hope to shed some light on this troubling phenomenon.

Honestly, I believe there are a variety of reasons for this aberrant behavior, the first one being that Christians in America define themselves by the things they believe, not by their attitudes or behaviors.

Reason #1 – Christians in America are defined by doctrines.

This idea goes all the way back to the third century when Emperor Constantine was allowed to define what it meant to be a Christian. Before this, the Christian church (as evidenced by the New Testament writings and early church practice) defined Christianity as a way of living that mirrored the life of Jesus. This is why Paul the Apostle was so adamant that the early Christians not associate with those who called themselves Christians but refused to actually obey His teachings.

“But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” (1 Cor. 5:11)

Ironically, in this same passage, Paul makes a point that he’s not talking about non-believers who behave this way. Not at all:

“…not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.” (1 Cor. 5:10)

Somehow Christians in America have gotten this backwards. They refuse to associate with “worldly” people who don’t act Christian, but have a very high tolerance for people within the Church who don’t act like Jesus.

But it’s not our tolerance for this behavior that has led us to this unsettling situation. It’s our definition of who a Christian really is.

When Constantine showed up and helped to end the persecution of Christians with the edict of Milan in 313, many (but not all) Christians hailed him as a hero, and even welcomed his influence in the affairs of the church. Possibly this was because Constantine granted their leaders tax exemptions and put many of them on the Roman payroll, perhaps?

At any rate, Constantine did what no Emperor had ever done before – he influenced the church to codify a statement of orthodoxy – a set of core beliefs – that defined what “true” Christianity was all about.
Before this the early church disagreed on a number of doctrinal points, and even freely dis-fellowshipped themselves from those who taught heresy (as they defined it). But, until Constantine officially declared what made Christians “Christian” the only criteria was a simple faith in Christ and a sincere desire to put His teachings into practice. Granted, some might disagree with you on a few points of doctrine, but they wouldn’t have killed you for it. We have Constantine to thank for that eventual practice.

Fast forward a few hundred years and nothing much has changed. Pastors and churches are still exempt from taxes, they are still useful to propagate the policies of the Empire, and Christianity is still defined as an agreement with a set of core doctrines.

This is why you can now call yourself a Christian and disobey Christ’s command to care for the orphan and the widow. Because if you have agreed with the Statement of Faith (the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the Trinity, the Resurrection, etc.) then you are absolutely a Christian, and your actions are not taken into account.

Of course, this is in direct contradiction to Jesus’ words that:
“they will know that you are my disciples (followers) if you love one another” (John 13:35)
“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.” (John 14:21)
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” (John 14:23-24).

So, basically, as long as you take a new believer’s class or agree with a detailed “Statement of Faith” you’ll be considered a Christian by almost every Church in America today. In spite of the fact that you may not follow Jesus, obey Jesus, or have any intention of learning what Jesus commanded His followers to do.

For the record, if you can turn away someone in need who comes to you begging for help, you might not be a Christian. Or, as the Apostle John asks,
“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 John 3:17)

Christians in America desperately need to redefine themselves as people who are doing their best to put the words of Jesus into action. Otherwise, we’ll be left with a Church that looks and acts nothing like Jesus.




Patricia PacJac Carroll said...

Good post.
And good words for thought.
I think we have lost sight of just what the church is supposed to be.
And much of what the church does is to try and keep the doors open.

Time to get back to Jesus. Follow Him and His word.

Pam said...

Our son is a pastor and pays taxes.

Rob Grayson said...

Excellent post, Keith! I don't like it – or rather, it makes me feel uncomfortable. Which is exactly what I need to be made to feel.

the red pill said...

I think the everyday person is "irked" by any top heavy "fat cats" of a "corporation" milking exorbitant funds to keep exclusive country club lifestyles going. Flipping a few pennies now and then to a charity may appear benevolent, yet "losing your life" and emeshing to embrace Jesus principles is a different story.

NoahM said...

So true, and not just in America, put Australia in there too!

The detailed Statements of Faith by various churches conveniently omit calls to act or behave like Christ.

Ev5 said...

I seem lately to be puzzled by the lack of compassion I see everyday from self proclaimed Christians. They sure can "talk the talk" well but where is the love and caring? A lot of sound and fury signifying nothing as far as I am concerned .

Peter Attwood said...

Agreed, except that the rot began long before Constantine, who otherwise would not have been so readily welcomed.