Very often when I tell someone I am a Christian the response is not overwhelmingly positive. The word Christian has picked up a lot of baggage over the years and some of that negativity is unfortunately deserved. As Christians we have projected a narrow, holier-than-thou attitude that has manifested itself in a great number of less than Christ like actions. Even our terminology towards non-Christians such as “non-believers” or “they don’t know the truth” rings of a self-satisfied piety.
Recently, my friend Angela gave me a copy of Carl Medearis’ book, Speaking of Jesus (the Art of not-evangelism), and all I can say is that every Christian should read this book. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning and Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller along with Medearis’ book will make great summer reading for anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of already diving into these spiritual masterpieces.
Medearis tells the story of being in a round table discussion with a Christian bishop, two Muslim spiritual leaders, and two Rabbis’. The question they were to discuss was “how does your religion get you into heaven?” After each of the religious leaders spoke it was Carl’s turn.
His answer to the question was, “Actually, my religion doesn’t get you into heaven.”
The host asked him to explain.
“It’s just that I’ve never seen a religion save anyone. All religions are great at laying out some basic rules—do’s and don’ts—that are good for our lives, but they don’t really provide hope or any kind of eternal security. It seems religions end up causing more trouble than solving anything.”
“So then,” asked the host, “how do you get to heaven?”
“It’s Jesus. He didn’t start a new religion. Believing in Him and following Him is the way. He takes us to heaven, not a religion.”
After the round table discussion one of the Muslim leaders came over to Medearis wagging his finger with a big grin on his face. “Carl, Carl, Carl,” he said, “You had an unfair advantage. While we were all busy defending our religion and our positions, you simply talked about Jesus. You cheated.” Speaking of Jesus p. 37-38
That’s it isn’t it? When we discuss Christianity we are always at a disadvantage because we become bogged down in arguing over what Christians have done in the name of Christ instead of talking about Jesus. A good friend of mine always brings up how, in the name of Christianity, Christians ravished the South American cultures enslaving the people and forcing Christianity upon them.
When we get drawn into these types of discussions unless we are honest and admit the shameful conduct of the Conquistadores and the misery that followed we will always be on the wrong side of history. Defending Christianity when it is indefensible is wrong, but somehow we feel as Christians we are letting the side down if we don’t rally around the flag. Instead of responding with some of the stupid things we say trying to make excuses for what happened we should say, “that is Christianity not Jesus.”
Ruth is reading Romans and this morning she said to me, “how can anyone have a law centered religion when they read this book?” Maybe, that has been the whole problem of our witness in North America; we are promoting religion (Christianity) instead of presenting Jesus. Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Gandhi was no Christian, and this was really a dig, but it rings of truth nevertheless.
We are defined, all too often, by what we are against. Let’s be honest, the reason young people are not attracted to Christianity has little or nothing to do with Jesus but everything to do with what they see and have experienced from the followers of Jesus. A young lady recently told me that all her friends who grew up in religious homes have no interest in spiritual things but all her friends who grew up in non-religious homes have a real interest in the spiritual.
When you are out-and-about take a look at the posters in the coffee shops, bulletin boards, and grocery stores. There are invitations to take classes on Meditation, Yoga, and Crystals, having your cards read, spiritual retreats, healing sessions, and a host of other forms of self-help aids in forming a spiritual life. People flock to these courses and workshops because they are seeking a spiritual element.
What do we offer to a searching public? Unfortunately, way too often it is not Jesus, but our form of religion with all its baggage. Jesus loves us unconditionally and longs to hold us and comfort us and pour His compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, and love upon us. Our sins, past, present, and future, are forgiven when we come to Him with an open heart and ask forgiveness. All He asks of us is to trust in His love and He will guide our ways and give us eternal life.
Why is it so hard to share this with others? Why instead do we have so many roadblocks and barriers to the love of Jesus? Instead of presenting Jesus, Savior of the world, we offer people Revelation Seminars. Really! Instead of saying, “come as you are,” we say “when you get your life together and stop drinking, going to dances, smoking, or whatever else your religion demands, then we can talk”.
Do I sound too cynical? When I became a follower of Jesus I knelt and gave myself to Him. That was my experience. However, the denomination I joined put me through twenty-six Bible studies to make sure that I was fit to become “one of them”. There is nothing wrong with studying the Bible, but I had given my life to become a follower of Jesus not to be added to a religion.
What I needed more than anything was to understand the amazing love of Jesus for me. Being a new Christian I thought that all these doctrines were the way to know Jesus and this is what I was to share with others. The result was I never told my friends about Jesus but instead tried to teach them Bible prophecy, tithing, spiritual gifts, and how awful it was to smoke or go to dances. Yikes! No wonder I lost all my friends!
What would happen if we simply shared the amazing grace of Jesus? All I know is that when I get bogged down in defending religion it is a no win proposition. When I talk about Jesus I see a spark of understanding in people’s eyes. The greatest Apologetics we can offer our society is Jesus.