Am I a Christian?Lately I’ve been hesitant to refer to myself as a “Christian” without qualifying what it means. Back in the 50s when I was a kid, a Christian was a person who manifested the characteristics of Christ. Though not perfect, they were compassionate, esteemed others more highly than themselves, championed the cause of the poor, fought against injustice, and lived by the Golden Rule.
Recently I saw an article in the news about a church in New York that tried to beat confessions out of a couple of teenagers whom several members felt were not right with God.
According to the news clip, “Police said spiritual ‘counseling’ at the Word of Life church turned into an hours-long attack Sunday night in which Lucas Leonard, 19, and his 17-year-old brother, Christopher, were pummeled with fists, authorities said. They suffered injuries to the abdomen, genitals, back and thighs. Eventually, Lucas stopped breathing and relatives took him early Monday to a hospital, where he died, police said. Authorities went to the church and found his younger brother, who was hospitalized in serious condition. Both brothers were subjected to physical punishment over the course of several hours, in hopes that each would confess to prior sins and ask for forgiveness,’ Police Chief Michael Inserra said.” (1)
Today, the Christian label can carry strong political overtones that come across as harsh, judgmental and insensitive. Some Evangelicals have made it their mission to turn America into a Christian nation. Recently a former governor of a prominent state said that the wall that separates church and state is an idea that comes directly from the devil. In harmony with others, he believes we should have a theocratic form of government—a Christian government that mandates prayer in public schools, abolishes all forms of abortion (even when the mother’s life is in danger), enacts Sunday laws that forbide secular activity on the ‘Sabbath,’ and imposes Christians values upon society at large.
Nowhere in Scripture do we find Christ urging his followers to pursue such an agenda. In fact Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Homosexuality and abortion were widely practiced among the Romans during his earthly ministry, yet we find no record of Jesus mounting a campaign to try and wipe them out. In fact, Jesus made no effort to establish a new world order or sanitize culture through spiritual mandates. The only kingdom that he directed his energies to defeat was the kingdom of self and selfishness.
When “Christians” focus their energies on obtaining and welding earthly power as a means to purify the earth they manifest how far they have strayed from the mission of Christ. The true enemy that Christ wants us overcome is self, not pluralism, communism, liberalism, conservatism, or any other “ism” that threatens our peace. World conditions and external freedoms are in constant flux. Biblical prophecy predicts that one day religious zealots in the United States will turn this country into a religio-political power that champions God but strips people of their religious freedoms (see Revelation 13). They will use coercion and punative measures to mandate spirituality. This will undoubtedly lead to vilence and persecution.
Evidently, in some cases, being “Christian” means that you end up being less godly than the name implies.
When Jesus was here he was an alien in a hostile, land—which is why he was eventually strung up and killed. But what’s fascinating is that it wasn’t the secularists or liberals who did the dark deed. It was religious people, church goers and leaders who championed his death. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was an imposter.
When we become followers of Jesus, we become aliens on this earth and shouldn’t expect to be treated any better than Jesus was. When we are it is the unexpected norm.
When Christians expect the world to treat them as non-aliens, they expose their ignorance of what it means to follow Jesus.
Following Jesus will undoubtedly lead us at times to embrace some lifestyle choices and attitudes that run counter to the acceptable practices of many. In a defining way, John said that Jesus’ followers will be known by their compassion. In a world of divided ideologies, slander, rude confrontation, ethnic cleansing, terrorism and racism, anyone who dares to love without exception will be noticed and sometimes admired. But more often they will be criticized for being too inclusive and accepting. I cannot think of a better thing to be criticized for.
“The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things” (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT).
I want to be Christian in the same way that Christ’s followers were in the first century in Antioch. They were called “Christian” because they reflected the attitudes and actions of Christ. They were like Jesus!
I am a Christian, but such a declaration may not mean what you think.
If I am to suffer for the name of Christ, let it be because I am like him and not like some of those who claim to be his followers.
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