I attend a country church in Paris, PA, just a little past the West Virginia border. We’re a small but thriving congregation, compelled to fulfill the true definition of Christianity in an ever-changing world. Believe me; it isn’t always easy – if ever. This morning I attended a New Members Sunday school class where the question was put to us, what does it mean to be a Christian? It didn’t seem hard to answer; a Christian is someone who follows Christ. But when it was pointed out that many people call themselves Christians without believing in the teachings of Christ, the discussion blew wide open.
Here is what bothers me, indeed, nags at me most of the time: a large part of the secular world is better at being Christians than many of us “Christ followers” are. Why do I say that? Admittedly, it’s a generalization but think about it – the type of people who say things like, “Live and let live,” or, “to each their own,” or, “it’s not my place to judge” (or to put it another way, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” Luke 6:31) are usually those who don’t consider themselves particularly religious or faithful. Liberal charities – the kind often dismissed as bleeding hearts – essentially exist only to be kind and humane to whatever cause they champion. These are usually not Christian organizations either.
Now please don’t misunderstand me – of course there are countless wonderful Christian charities as well, and I fully believe that the Holy Spirit is working through Christian communities worldwide. My point is simply, that we can and should, do better. It bothers me to drive around my usual stomping grounds and see Christian churches displaying signs that effectively deride the President of the United States for his decisions. Is this Christian behavior, and is that what the Church is to be used for?
I came home from church today and sat down to Brennan Manning’s wonderful book about grace, The Ragamuffin Gospel. What I read struck me to the core, and I had to share because this is exactly where so many of us stumble. He writes:
Let go of the good old days that never were – a regimented church you never attended, traditional virtues you never practiced, legalistic obedience you never honored, and a sterile orthodoxy you never accepted. The old era is done. The decisive inbreak of God has happened. (The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 110)
This is not the green idealism of a young man – Manning was middle aged at the time this book was published in 1990, and had already lived a full life. Nor is it a new concept - Jesus said it himself, in Luke 11 some 2,000 years ago,
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone….And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Luke 11:42, 46, NIV)
Will we continue to listen? Have we even scratched the surface? I am excited to be part of a congregation aching to be the hands and feet of Christ to the world, and I hope and pray to see a new dawn of Christianity in the American Church today.