21 September 2021
Who are these Christians?
In his book The Heart of Christianity (2003) Marcus Borg of Oregon State University describes how his students have a negative image of Christianity. "When I ask them to write a short essay on their impression of Christianity," says Borg, "they consistently use five adjectives: Christians are literalistic, anti-intellectual, self-righteous, judgmental, and bigoted."
In NZ society today these same stereotypes are perpetuated and reinforced by the media. The media love a scrap between someone who pushes a conventional Christian view of Jesus to the edge and someone who defends it fundamentally, and who hopefully produce some controversial statements. Pictures of Destiny Church followers marching in their unfortunate black T Shirts against whatever the prevailing issues are, or documentaries on weird sects - possibly misrepresented- showing how families are brainwashed "prove' that Christians are odd. The fact that the mainstream churches, where still the vast majority of Christians worship, do not support whatever sect is shown, does not deter the media from naming them as Christian.
Have you noticed when the abuse of children occurs, parents are labelled as Christian if they have any connection with any church, as if this somehow produces a negative effect. The other day a religious labelling was given to a Muslim couple with the same intention of this being a negative contributor to their parenting skills?.
Religion is pictured as being the cause of all the abusive behaviours under question and gives the reporters the chance to turn their brains off and take cheap shots.
Dan Clendenin, in his blog, points out that the Bible tells of the massive difference for good made in the lives of the first Christians. Paul's letter to the Corinthians greets that troubled group of believers, where there were divisions, boasting about incest ("and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans," 1 Corinthians 5:1), eating food that had been sacrificed to pagan idols, disarray in worship services, and predatory evangelist preachers masquerading as super-apostles, with a wholehearted wish for "grace and peace." He hopes that they will be "enriched in every way" (1 Corinthians 1:3,4). He wishes them only good. Think about what our world might be like if we each offered our neighbour a similar greeting for their well-being.
The reality is that following the example of Jesus, the first Christians broke down social barriers. They disregarded religious taboos that judged people as ritually clean or unclean, worthy or unworthy. They undermined normal social rankings of wealth, ethnicity, religion, and gender in favour of a radical equality before God and with each other: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28), and they struggled and argued about how to do it.
They demonstrated transparency, not moral superiority or questionable motives. Like their Lord, they were compassionate rather than condemning. They lived out of gratitude not fear, and had a reputation for empathy rather than fault-finding. The first followers of Jesus were people of self-sacrifice, not self-interest. They insisted that God was like a tender father, not a vindictive tyrant, and encouraged every person without exception to believe what the psalmist said: "This I know, that God is for me" (Psalm 56:9).
A generation after the first believers, the theologian Justin Martyr (c. 100165) summed up the appeal of Christian community: . . we who once took most pleasure in accumulating wealth and property now share with everyone in need; we who hated and killed one another and would not associate with men of different tribes because of their different customs now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them and pray for our enemies.
The witness of those first believers who, because "great grace was with them all," demonstrated overflowing generosity to their neighbours, consequently "enjoyed the favour of all the people."
I would hope that we could be seen as having those qualities instead of what many people are conditioned to think today when they hear the word "Christian."
I guess it depends on us to challenge the present stereotype by how we follow Jesus in our community so that we point towards the love and life of God which is offered to everyone.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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