“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
About a month ago, during an online discussion, someone wrote about my “obvious contempt for Christianity”. Excuse me? What contempt for Christianity? I was momentarily puzzled since I wasn’t aware that I had contempt for Christianity, and what kind of messages might I be sending inadvertently if someone actually thought I did? I didn’t want to be sending the wrong message (1 Cor. 10:32-33, 2 Cor. 6:3). In the end, I decided it was the usual online stuff of “You don’t agree with me so you have contempt for Christianity.”
Among other things, my opponent claimed that Christianity gave the world democracy, which is false. Athens, where they worshiped Athena, the goddess of wisdom, had democracy in 508 BC. Christianity perpetuated leadership that was appointed by God and chosen by lot (Acts 1:26). Paul and Peter both believed that earthly rulers, meaning kings, were in place because it was God’s will (Rom. 13:1, 1 Pet. 2:13-14), not the will of the governed. As my friend Joanne pointed out, if anything Christianity gave the world communism (Acts 2:44-45). My worthy opponent also claimed that Christianity gave the world science and technology. Again, it didn’t. Religion—including Christianity—is about believing things without proof, science is about proving and understanding them. The two aren’t always necessarily compatible. Gregor Mendel didn’t discover the principles of genetics because he was a Christian but because he was smart and observant. I suppose you could say that God gave us both brains and Christianity so there’s a sort of connection. But Copernicus and Galileo were both persecuted in the name of Christianity even though both were Christians.
In the end, the disagreement came down to the difference between Christianity as an ideal and Christianity as it’s often practiced, and I concluded that my strong disagreement with my opponent’s ideas was being perceived as distaste for Christianity. Personally, I can separate one person from Christianity in general but I can’t separate the Christianity some of us profess from what we do, both individually and collectively. We have prayers of confession for a reason, precisely because we don’t always do what we believe. Sure, Christianity teaches that all persons are valued by God (Matt. 10:29-31) but it doesn’t teach that we’re entitled to equal votes. In fact, the New Testament condones slavery (1 Cor. 7:21-22; Col. 3:11). There is no contempt in recognizing that, it’s simply the truth; things were different 2,000 years ago and the writers of the New Testament spoke to the situation as it was, not as we might wish it had been.
The truth is that Christians—both individually and collectively as the church—have done wonderful and terrible things. That’s not a reflection on Christianity but it is a reflection on us. Paul wrote, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Rom. 7:15 ESV). He knew that “it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. . . . I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (vs. 20b, 25b ESV). But Christianity—the living message of Christ’s matchless gift—has also transformed billions of lives, including mine, and I don’t know what my life would like be if I weren’t a Christian. I do know it would be very different and I would be the poorer for it.
Being a Christian is not only about what we believe but about what we do, how we behave and how we treat others. In John’s gospel, Jesus said “‘Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. . . . By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.’” (John 15:5b, 8). He also said that people, both good and bad, are recognizable by their fruit (Matt. 7:16-20). John the Baptist told the Pharisees and Sadducees, “‘Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.’” (Matt. 3:8 ESV). If we bear the fruit of repentance, we’re closer to the ideal of Christ. John wrote, “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:5b-6 ESV). When we walk as Jesus walked, we demonstrate the truth of Christianity. When we walk in the way of the world, we make it false.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:8-10 ESV.)