Sometimes the church can become known for different things than what Jesus was known for. Anti-gay, judgmental, hypocritical – make the list of the top three things unchurched people think about when asked about their views of Christians.
What does this say about us? Two things.
- We’re known more for the things we are against than the things we are for.
- The thing that didn’t make the list is the very thing Christ said should dominate our collective witness as his followers – love.
Again, what does this say about us?
I think there are a number of people who identify with Christianity as a religion, but far less who identify with the person, teachings, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus and allow his life to shape their own.
To be a Christian is ultimately about following Jesus as a member of his body – the church. It means embracing Jesus and being embraced by Jesus. It means that the primary definition of a Christian is not one’s adherence to a certain brand of faith, doctrinal code or denominational emphasis.
The primary definition of a Christian is Jesus. To be a Christian is to follow Jesus and allow his life, death, witness, teachings and example to form and shape us into Jesus-looking people.
To be a Christian is to put into practice the ways of Jesus. It means that the entirety of his life orders our own. Our identity is defined by his identity. Only then can we say with any degree of confidence that we are Jesus-followers.
Christianity as the Way of Following Jesus
Following Jesus is not about following certain verses, though scripture will always be the primary place we go to learn more about Jesus. Instead, following Jesus is about the way, style, mood and ethos of following Jesus that pays attention to the verses but ultimately seeks the Spirit of Jesus within them.
When Christians are recognized more for where they stand on certain issues in contemporary society than on our love of God and neighbor, we have a huge problem to deal with. The primary issue is that of an identity crisis.
The worst thing that can happen is when believe we are Christians by virtue of our association with Christianity as one religion among many, yet look, sound and act in a way contrary to our leader – Jesus.
We need a Christianity that is defined not by our position on a certain political issue, but one that is ultimately defined by Jesus. We need a Christianity that looks and sounds like Jesus. We need to allow Jesus back into Christianity until Christianity begins to look like Jesus.
The Imitation Game
I’m tired of a plastic Christianity that tries to look the part but is nothing like the original. If Jesus is truly Lord than he alone should structure and order the life of his church – his body upon the earth. If Jesus is truly Lord, as Bruxy Cavey has often said, than he alone has the right to tell us how to live. When Jesus is Lord – we will live love.
Imitation is a term we all need to become reacquainted with. To imitate is to be like something or someone. To walk like, to sound like, to live like the one being imitated.
Throughout the New Testament witness we are called to imitate our Leader – Jesus. We are called to imitate him in everything he said and did so that we look like the one we claim to follow. Only then can we call ourselves followers. Anything else is a fabrication. We take his name, but little else.
When Christians are known more for being anti-gay, judgmental and hypocritical over being loving, kind, gracious, patient and self-giving, we can say with a good degree of confidence that we are not following Jesus well. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that in some cases we’re not following him at all.
We’ve become content with associating with Jesus as a religious figure, but not following him as Lord and King.
However, as Benjamin L. Corey once wrote,
When we have our lives oriented on religious identity instead of in Jesus alone, we encounter a massive obstacle in our path.
I’m convinced that when Jesus is allowed to be the primary shaping influence in each church and life, we will become known not by how judgmental we are, but how loving and gracious we are.
The more Jesus is allowed to shape Christianity, the more Christianity will begin to look like Jesus. If anything other than Jesus is allowed to take center stage we will begin to move away from love and move towards a human fabrication that takes his name, but not his witness.
Certainly we have more to offer the world than this.