I saw a sign on Saturday that saddened me a bit. It was along the route I was driving to get to my son’s final football game of the regular season (they are undefeated at 7-0). The marquis out front of a small church read the following: “Come in if you love Jesus. Anybody can honk.” I’m sure the people who put together those words felt that they were being clever and cute and bit funny. But I think it speaks to the mindset that exists in many mainstream American “evangelical” congregations. And to be honest, the thinking that is behind those words is one of the things that led me to leave that kind of church in search of another kind of church.
I think it’s sad when the church starts to think about people as “us” and “them.” This sign excludes. It divides people into those that love Jesus and those that do not. And then it takes a step further and says to those that do not indentify themselves as Jesus lovers to stay away. I would even venture out on a bit of a limb and say that behind those words lies a bit of elitism. That Jesus lovers are good and those that don’t love Jesus are bad. I don’t know what this church is trying to accomplish, but what they are saying to the world is that they are all about excluding and separating. And that certainly is not what Jesus is about.
Now it may very well be that those words were placed carelessly without much thought about the negative message that I am picking up from them. I realize that another way to look at it is that loving Jesus is much more than just a friendly honk. But it is sad to me than not enough thought went into those words so that what I believe is the greater negative message was realized. I believe it speaks to the “us good” and “them bad” mentality that seems to dominate much of Christianity. When we believe that God is coming to wisk us away to some spiritual existence and take us from these evil bodies and this evil world and when our theology is largely based on avoiding sin, I think this is where we end up, with “us” and “them.” When instead we realize that God is all about and in the process of redeeming his entire creation and bringing heaven to earth to some day heal all that is already good but broken, finally bringing the world to rights, then we join in the work of restoring all that is here and including everyone in that work.
I sometimes check out the naked pastor blog. He recently had a post that deals a bit with this. Check it out at http://nakedpastor.com/archives/2361. I will copy a quotation from it here:
“The evangelicals I’ve felt the most fond of, the most comfortable around, and the most commonality with– regardless of political, social, or philosophical differences– were the ones who never tried to sell me on Jesus yet always seemed to be trying to live the life Jesus desired of them. The paradox of lifestyle evangelism is that while it might sound like a Christian’s loving, friendly actions are all driven by an ulterior motive, it only really clicks when they’re able to let go of that motive. The people who made the best case for Christianity were the ones who were genuinely unconcerned whether I ever decided to become a Christian or not.”
This was taken from a book written by a Jewish agnostic, Daniel Radosh, whose work, Rapture Ready: Adventures in the Parellel Universe of Christian Pop Culture, is referenced in the piece at the above link. While I have never read the book, I think this statement speaks volumes. As followers of Christ we are to emulate him in our life and work. He did not exclude. He did not label “us” and “them.” He loved. He gave mercy. He scandalized with grace. He did not keep a list of sins. He did not force himself on anyone. He was not ‘in your face.’ Isn’t that what we are supposed to be doing? I think it is.
Christ does not need us to save others for him. He can do it himself. He invites us to join him in this part of the work of bringing his kingdom to earth, bringing heaven to earth. Our job is not to save and then raise well educated and proper theologized and well adjusted Chrisitians. Our job is to love people. Christ does the rest.