There are the signal, cautionary warnings that arise out of the heart schooled in scripture. Let us judge not, lest we ourselves be judged. Well, I happen to think we all are judged anyway, and that it's actually a good thing. Let any of us without sin cast the first stone. Well, I don't know about you, but that lets me out. Let us love one another as we love ourselves. I could use some improvement in that department too. How about you? When Christians get conflicted, confused, and cranky, we can always ask what Jesus would say and do. Even though we're never up to his example, we're all better off for having to make the comparison and acknowledge the contrast.
It's good news that the perennial appeal of Christianity rests upon the example of Jesus and not upon the example of his imperfect followers. Still, admirers of Christ and critics of Christians have said the Gospel would be more credible if Jesus' followers did a better job of imitating him. Our work is certainly cut out for us in that regard. One way to reconsider the discrepancy is to imagine how much worse we all might have been without his corrective example hanging in judgment over all our misdeeds. At the same time, the most luminous saints are the ones capable of a more gracious level of faith in action, practitioners being more clearly perfected in their imitation of Christ. The more inspiring followers stand out from the saddest aberrations of discipleship.
Jesus' example continues to exercise its judgment, continually exposing the intentions and motivations within people and events, sifting spirits, sorting good from ill. The key is his own motivation and intention, to serve God's will by offering salvation to all. He does so in the right spirit and for the right reason, not to condemn but to recall, not to hurt or harm but to help and heal. That example provides the standard against which we exercise judgment ourselves, with humility, acknowledging ourselves to be both sinful and sanctified, garden-variety saints seeking to live as Christ for the world.
As such, we seek to grow into the most faithful and life-giving lifestyle possible by grace through faith, and we wish the same for anyone else. Any lifestyle that is life-giving and lived with integrity is one that must have its origin in grace, because its is only grace which can accomplish such new life in us. That allows for a lot of varieties of manifestation, based on the summary of the law of grace, loving God above all, and so loving neighbor as self.
Christianity is a religion of love because Jesus reveals God to be Ultimate Love. The spiritual journey is one of our learning to "bear the beams of love." That process of transformation is what we traditionally call sanctification, or growing in holiness. We use words like "enlightened, awake, whole, saved" to describe the same process. Our goal is union with God, ourselves, and others -- a consciousness that is as transparent to divine love as is humanly possible.
Each of us is at different stages in that process. We live within different levels of maturity.
Most people love about as well as they can most of the time, given their own limitations and their own level of maturity. That's why even great atrocities of prejudice can usually be traced to some form of immature love. Nations sometimes launch unjust wars for the sake of love of country.
When Christians label non-Christians and even other Christians as infidels, it is because they love the part of the truth they have grasped but their love is still narrow and immature. Most sin is distorted love.
that, can't we be a bit more generous with each other?
It is a puzzle, isn't it? This question is a first cousin to some of my reflections on the question: "What if I am not certain what I believe?" Certainty can lead to arrogance. Arrogance invariably leads to condemnation. Maybe Christianity's "religion of love" needs less certainty and more trust. At the beginning of this century, I think we need to bring back a book popular last mid-century: J.B. Phillips' Your God is Too Small. The title tells the story. Many Christians seem to have (need?) a very small God. And with that small God they seem bent on whipping the very world that God so loves.
The only answer I have for this question is that we must struggle more faithfully, we must labor with more love to hold up a balance to what many see and experience as an oppressively rigid Christianity.
As one of the saints of old has said, "Truth is never truth if it is on the side of oppression." To that I would add, Christianity is not of Christ if it is abusive to those "whose lifestyles and views may differ from their own."
might be a Christian except for the Christians I have met." That
or a similar statement is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. Compiling a
list of individuals or groups who have misappropriated the mantle of
Christianity is a monumental task. The
Add to the list those groups that validate their particular brand of Christianity by distinguishing their beliefs and practices from even the slightest variance in the beliefs and practices of all others. A Christian is not someone who is "saved" through the rubrics of membership or the mere ascription to beliefs.
Being a Christian is not about exclusion. Being a Christian is not about separation or discrimination. Being a Christian is not about deciding who may be right or wrong. Being a Christian is not about securing what is rightfully yours or imposing justice on or even for others.
Jesus left us a final gift. It is a peace that needs no guarantee of security. You cannot build a wall around it and it cannot be sold or earned. You cannot even attain it by the most zealous adherence to the Golden Rule. Think of the most abhorrent individual. It is not enough to forgive him, you must embrace him. Not when he is penitent, but when he is most adamant in his abhorrent behavior.
Admittedly, there are few among us that can pass that test. At best, we try or we struggle with the concept. Fortunately, there is no litmus test for admission to the Christian church. Christians today are burdened with the same doubts, fears, bigotry and arrogance that have betrayed and divided the church for almost two-thousand years. Still we persist in gathering in worship. We persist in calling ourselves Christians. We persist, as individuals, in the face of repeated failures.
Ultimately, being a Christian is less about answers than it is about questions. Being a Christian is less about the final destination than it is about the road we travel. Being a Christian is about a journey of discovery. Being a Christian is about taking that journey together.
"Christians," those who trumpet their faith from the housetops and hurl down judgments on others below, often give Christianity a bad name. By presuming to know so precisely and literally what God's will is, they take on the self-righteous posture of the Pharisees and separate themselves to that extent from the healing Spirit of Love. "Christianity is a very good thing," George Bernard Shaw observed. "I would like to see it tried sometime."
First of all, I do not think everyone who calls themselves "Christians" are at all close to Christ. In fact, I suspect that a lot of people who profess to be Christians will be very surprised one day. No one knows who the "real" Christians are except God. It is not our place to judge such things. In the meantime, all of Christianity gets a bad rap when some misguided people do and say very un-Christian things.
It always seemed to me that Christianity should be judged by Christ's example, not by his followers' examples. His followers, including me, are fallible human beings struggling to overcome our own demons. Sometimes we fail. The beauty of Christianity is that Christ gently picks us up again, forgives us, and helps us back on the right path.
And what was Christ's example? He said that everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. He did not condone sin but he forgave it. My interpretation of the Gospels is that He was more concerned about the sins of pride, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy than about sins of passion. Christ did condemn all kinds of sins, but he was compassionate and understanding in doing so. He demonstrated his love for all people regardless of their lifestyles or views. In my opinion, we, as Christians, should do likewise. Many of us do a pretty good job. Many of us have a long way to go. But no one of us is better than another. We are all saved by Christ's grace and by His grace we will become more and more like him.
As Christians we are called to have compassion for people in situations that we may not understand. However, when a lifestyle in any way harms you or others, it then becomes unacceptable. I believe that acceptance and inclusion are exactly "what Jesus would do."
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