“There have been some who were so preoccupied with spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ.”
Consider that the abstract to an unwritten personal manifesto, an intangible piece of literature somewhere in my head. It’s from C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, a short book, but one that is, by no means, light in terms of the weight and significance of its content. That snippet is a microcosm of the book in the sense that simple words in a short sentence combine to create something not necessarily heady or highly theological . . . but the gravity of what it says (and the fact that something so uncomfortably piercing is stated so plainly and simplistically) causes the reader to pause. Many quotables are found in Lewis’ allegorical tale, but that is the one that stands out most to me. I think about this a lot: to get caught up in a movement and the fervor of its cause can be a good thing, unless its followers take that energy and go over the top with it and begin to distort the movement’s message and do things with it that should never happen.
I was trying to explain to a friend who doesn’t buy into the whole God idea that a good portion of my generation of believers really doesn’t even like the label “Christianity.” In fact, we’re almost hesitant to say we follow it. Why would that be? Well, consider history. Thanks to it, we see the connections Christianity has had, or more specifically, the things that have been done in the name of Christ. Here are just a few: slaughtering Muslims in the Crusades, the long list of atrocities committed by the Puritans and Pilgrims, the Church persecuting African Americans in the 1950s, Christians bombing abortion clinics, etc. There are more. You get the point, and so do other people. They’re not stupid, you know. They’re well aware that Christianity produces terrorists, too.
In all of these cases people get religion behind their cause as if it has unlocked the floodgates of permission, and as they are washed in its waters, they receive the blessing to go out and exact their seemingly righteous actions. This is what happens when fundamentalists become fanatical. Granted, they won’t see it that way; they’re just doing the Lord’s work. For too long, pious Christians fault other “radical” religions for hopping in bed with this dangerous fanaticism, and yet, Bible-toting individuals have also been guilty of doing the same.
And this is when Christianity is no longer about Christ because these people are not serving God. They are serving selfish agendas. It basically comes down to a deficiency in the skill of reading comprehension and critical thinking. People read the Bible and somehow come out with the following impression: we need to fight tooth and nail to keep evolution from being taught in schools; we need to go to that gay marriage rally and yell and scream (it’s our constitutional right, you know); and we need to take our Bible to the voting booth with us at every election. None of these ideas have a basis in the Word (referring to Christ as well as the book itself), yet believers fabricate biblical support for their cause. Those Christians will say they’re reading between the lines. I say they’ve forgotten how to read period.
This is why you won’t hear me saying I follow Christianity. Because everything I just described is not about Christ, and I prefer to follow him. Too often Christianity is not about love, and yet, that’s everything on which Christ focused. Christianity should not be about following a movement, but rather, a person. It’d be like me starting an organization and having a bunch of people following my lead as we’re starting out and going through the growing phases. Then, once we become more substantial and well-known, the “followers” start looking to the organization for the answers and directions instead of to me. Even though I’m right there, they look to the group and what everyone else is doing (or to themselves and what they want to do) to get their advice on how to act, rather than looking to the guy who started it all—the guy who knows how it’s supposed to be done. That’s how you get off-track. That’s what becomes dangerous.
Because if you remove Christ from Christianity, you suddenly have permission to do, well . . . anything you want (i.e., marrying your politics to your religion). Now, believe me when I say that I don’t think every one of these people purposely removes Christ from Christianity, but when “people of faith” and their actions are so distant from what he would’ve done, you have to wonder what they’re reading in their Bibles.
You see, all too often there is a tendency to lash out, to scream at those who aren’t “being Christ-like”—the sinners and “pagans” and “wicked people” of this world—which is interesting considering that those who want to react against the “pagans” aren’t being very Christ-like, either, when they lash out or scream. And yet, in Isaiah 55:7-8 the prophet says, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.”
For some Christians, indignation arises at the prospect of being told to stop worrying about what the wicked are doing. “We have our children to protect! We must do something…how can we sit by idly?” I suppose God knows this, which is why in verse eight of that Isaiah passage he basically says we don’t get it, and perhaps we’re not supposed to get it. But God—and subsequently Christ—both understand that adding one’s voice to the fray in anger doesn’t positively lend to or help the already existing cacophony of different views bouncing around out here. There’s nothing wrong with sharing one’s viewpoint. We do, after all, have that right. But there’s a way to do it, and few people know how.
I don’t come away from that verse with the impression that our calling is to lambaste those whom we feel act apart from God. In fact, earlier in verse six, Isaiah says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near,” as if to direct us to that which is actually important. That’s an interesting plea, for when you are close to God your mission aligns with his and suddenly anti-homosexual and anti-abortion rallies, genocide, and crusades don’t seem so appealing anymore. In fact, they are revealed for what they truly are: barbaric. And Christ couldn’t be further from that word since he is, after all, the Prince of Peace.
Christ changed the world by being love. He spoke up and talked when it was important, and he made what I think is a solid case for believing in him, but even so, some people still walked away in unbelief, but Christ didn’t go ballistic on them. So when people turn a deaf ear to us, the instantaneous reaction isn’t to throw a tantrum. Well, actually . . . it usually is, which is funny in a sick sort of way because we teach little children to sing “He’s got the whole world in his hands” even though hardly any of us act or look like we believe it ourselves. Our children actually probably have a better concept of that than most adult Christians do.
More could be said on that, I suppose, but I’ll stop there because it’s not like I’m saying anything new, anything original here. This isn’t groundbreaking or earth-shattering because this idea’s been there for over 2,000 years, and many evangelicals today corroborate it if you look around for a while. So why does it feel like the minority of believers actually live this out? Maybe a lot of people hear it, but few listen to it.