Look, it’s a fair question. and before the insultfest starts, you should think about the question. If you consider yourself a Christian, it’s a good exercise:
“Am I the reason people around me mock Christianity and reject Christ?”
Now, I’ve already considered the question myself. And just so you know, I’m guilty as charged. I admit it. I’ve taken the time to examine my own way of following Christ out in the real world. It ain’t pretty. But not for the usual reasons. Not for the 21st century watered down version of Christian do’s and don’ts.
I’ve been spending countless hours immersed in the writings of the Early Church Fathers. You know, the guys who knew Paul, Peter or John and the Apostles. Or were discipled by them personally. Or they were discipled by men who had been discipled by the Apostles. These guys were very close to the source of the New Testament. Some of them are even mentioned in the New Testament. I’ve wanted to understand how they understood the faith.
Their understanding of what it means to follow Christ is far different than our modern day version. It’s not even close. If Polycarp or Clement were to walk into any evangelical congregation in the entire western world, they’d likely find an unrecognizable version of Christianity.
But then again, their version largely swept over the earth and transformed the world. Our version? Well, let’s be as charitable as we can….we’ve got great worship bands, sound systems and offerings. But the non-Christian world laughs at us. Worse, they’re rejecting Christ more and more.
But I have a hunch they’re not actually rejecting Christ. They’re rejecting you and me. They look at the Christians they know and they see that we don’t live out these great truths we proclaim. Give them credit, they’re not stupid. If you’re not willing to live out what you believe, why should they consider believing it?
And this brings us back to the question: “Am I the reason people mock Christianity and reject Christ?”
The writer of 2 Clement asked the church of his day to consider the same question. It was written sometime between 100-140 AD, maybe a little later. Here’s why he asked it:
“Let us wipe off from ourselves our former sins and be saved, repenting from the very souls of our being. And let us not seek to please humans, nor let us desire to please only ourselves with our righteousness, but also those who are outsiders, so that the Name many not be blasphemed on our account.
For the Lord says, ‘My name is continually blasphemed among all nations,’ and again, ‘Woe to him on whose account my name is blasphemed.’
Why is it blasphemed? Because you do not do what I desire.
For when the pagans hear from our mouths the oracles of God, they marvel at their beauty and greatness. But when they discover that our actions are not worthy of the words we speak, they turn from wonder to blasphemy, saying that it is a myth and delusion.
For when they hear from us that God says “It is no credit to you if you love those who love you, but it is a credit to you if you love your enemies and those who hate you,” when they hear these things, they marvel at such extraordinary goodness.
But when they see that we not only do not love those who hate us but do not even loves those who love us, they scornfully laugh at us, and the Name is blasphemed.” 2 Clement 13:2-3
They marveled at the teachings but ultimately reject them. And why is that? Because they didn’t walk the walk. They reasoned, if these incredible words are true, we expect the people who believe them to live them out. If they don’t live them out, then they’re not true.
They were amazed by the greatness of the teaching of Christianity. But when they wanted to see these great teachings in action, they found nothing. The result? They considered the message a myth and a delusion. God’s name was dishonored among unbelievers and it was the fault of believers! Let that sink in!
It was the church’s fault in 120AD. Is it our fault today?
Consider the question of this post. Reflect on it. Do some soul searching. Resist the temptation to point fingers at the church at large or other people. That’s too easy. Consider your own life. You can’t change the church, the people around you or society at large. Besides, that’s not your responsibility. You and I can only change ourselves and we should focus on that.
“Maybe it doesn’t matter to Him?”
My friend stared at me in disbelief. How could I say something like that? We’d been discussing the state of the church in its four major divisions: Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant. (For the sake of brevity, I’ve lumped all us Protestants into one category. I don’t have time to list us all!)
“Of course THE Church matters to God”, he replied, “He died to give it birth!
I can’t argue with that!
What perplexes me though, is there are so many different types of churches. Catholics believe in purgatory, the other three divisions of the church, don’t. That’s a big difference. We don’t agree on how many books are actually the official “word of God”. That also seems significant. Some churches teach that how one lives has absolutely nothing to do with salvation, while others teach that it has everything to do with it. That’s a HUGE deal, right? Others are somewhere in-between.
We have Catholic decrees calling the Reformers heretics, and we have the Reformers labeling the Pope the anti-Christ. Orthodox and Catholics are at odds over one word in the Creed among other substantial issues. We can’t even seem to agree on the purpose of Christianity.
Then we have us Protestants!
Protestants agree that Jesus Christ died on the cross for “our” sins, but we can’t agree on who is included in “our”. We agree in the “Atonement”, but can’t agree on what it actually entails. We believe people worked miracles, but don’t agree on when or IF that has stopped.
- We don’t agree on how a church should conduct itself in worship.
- We don’t agree on something as simple as how a person actually comes to Christ.
- We don’t agree on what it means to follow Christ.
- We don’t agree on a host of important issues.
The world looks at us and sees “Christian” sects. Groups that argue amongst themselves and can’t agree on the essentials. We are divided, pure and simple. Stating otherwise is wishful thinking.
“Maybe it doesn’t matter to Him?”
Of course, Jesus did pray for “those who would believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one…May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me…” (John 17:20-21, 23.) Unity was important enough to pray for on the eve of the crucifixion. The Father gave a big “Sorry Son, no can do” answer on that one. At least Jesus knows what it’s like to have his prayers go unanswered!
Why did God allow it to happen?
Many Protestants believe that around 300AD the real church was infiltrated and perverted by the Catholic Church. As a result, the true Gospel was lost. And God let the Gospel be lost for 1200 years? That leaves more questions!
If purity of doctrine matters so much…
- Why didn’t God step in at such a critical moment to stop the hijacking of the Gospel?
- Why would God allow His church to proclaim a false gospel? One that would consign its followers to hell?
- Why didn’t he put a quick end to it? I find these questions a bit troubling.
To be fair, Catholics believe the Reformers are the real usurpers. Who can blame them? After all, the church existed virtually unchanged for 1500 years, until Luther come along. It’s understandable that they got together at Trent and called the Reformers heretics.
Here’s the compelling issue for me: In both cases, God did not stop the supposed error from taking root. If God is omniscient then he knew what would happen if he did nothing. God foresaw the doctrinal mess that would result. He knew what would happen if He did nothing, and he did…. nothing. Think about that!
He stepped in before, why not again?
We do know that if God wanted to step in and crush the rebellions, he could have. He did that very thing during the Exodus when Korah and his crew openly challenged Moses leadership of the young Israel. Read about it in Numbers 16. The gist of it is that God caused the ground to open up and swallow the leaders of the rebellion, their families and everything they owned! Rebellion over. Case closed. God’s leadership of his people settled.
But that is not what he did in 300AD. That is not what he did when the West and East Split in 1054. It’s not what he did at the beginning of the Reformation. He still hasn’t done it. In all these cases, God allowed it to stand. He had the opportunity to answer the Son’s prayer for unity, but chose not to.
You may counter and say that God NOT acting isn’t proof He doesn’t care. And I’d agree with you 100%. His non-action doesn’t prove anything on either side of the question. What we know from the Bible is that God has acted in human history. At key moments and in powerful ways, he’s intervened to ensure his plan moves forward as planned. But not on this issue. When you consider how significant the Church is to God’s plan, I think his inaction is worth considering.
It matters to us, but does it matter to God?
This brings me back to my conversation with my friend. Obviously, the doctrinal differences we’ve killed others for matter to us. They are a big deal, to us. But do they matter to God? Personally, I don’t think so. (My thoughts on this are shaped by far more than what I’ve covered here.)
Before you get the kindling and tie me to the stake consider what I’m NOT saying. I’m not saying that God doesn’t care about the Gospel or the church, or the world of lost souls. He does. But our petty little in house arguments?
This isn’t simply a thought exercise. The church in the USA could be heading into a very dark period. The culture is shifting. Their opinion of the church is souring even more. They’re calling some members of the church terrorists. They don’t like that we want to gather together for worship. New political leadership is rising that doesn’t care about religious freedom. What lies ahead? I’m not sure. But it sure seems like dark clouds on the horizon.
If dark days lie ahead, we’ll need to circle the wagon of faith. We’ll need to set aside our petty theological differences. We’ll need to unite around the basic essentials.
Who am I kidding? That will never happen! That would take a miracle and miracles don’t happen anymore. 🙂
That’s my view from the cheap seats. What’s yours? Why do you think God has allowed so much diversity to exist in His Church?
Read another thought provoking post on worship: God Does Not Need Our Worship…We Need It!
As I’ve said many times in this blog, dead people speak to me. Not their ghosts, but their words. One of my favorite things to read are the sermons and letters of the earliest church fathers. I’m talking about the guys who wrote while some of the Apostles were still alive and immediately after their passing. This excerpt comes from a sermon delivered 1900 years ago to the church in Corinth. Somewhere between 100 and 140AD.
The Corinthian church was facing problems again. Their big issue? It’s the same one the church in the United States is dealing with: They talked the talk, but didn’t walk the walk. The people of the day we’re laughing at them and calling them deluded.
We’ve become very vocal about what we believe. The problem isn’t what we believe. It’s that we don’t really believe it. Why else do you think we’d proclaim something so boldly and then choose not to live by it?
Have you read the oldest Christian sermon outside the New Testament? Read it here