Some Recent Examples from Personal Experience
This issue of Christians not mirroring Christ's teachings/Scripture in general of has confronted me time and again throughout my Christian walk, both in big and small ways, and where I’ve either been the offender or when I’ve been on the ugly receiving end of professing believers. Let me shared just a few recent examples.
A short time back, I was contacted out-of-the-blue by the founder of a Christian ministry who asked me to take over the organization he had run for decades. I was very honored (and honestly quite scared) by the request, and felt this had to be what I had been preparing for the past five years to do. When I pushed him as to why he picked me, he said, “Well, you’re the one God laid on my heart.” Hard to argue with that, eh?
After a unanimous vote of the ministry’s board, I was called to be the ministry’s successor. My wife and I put our house up for sale and made the emotional and financial plans to make the move.
But after a few months of waiting for the house to sell, I got a strange email from the founder accusing me of a variety of things. When I tried to correct him on some of the items (e.g. showing email interactions as proof, etc.), he became irate, went to the ministry’s board, and without even giving me the chance to speak on my behalf, I was unceremoniously dismissed before I even started. All of this happened within a matter of one week and with just a few email exchanges.
I did a little digging after the event and found out by talking to a few people who have been associated with this organization for some time that this type of behavior was not uncommon for this particular ministry head.
Now, I’ve been in the corporate world for over 20 years and have been part of many different organizations, both large and small. In none of them have I had a superior or board of directors that were Christian, and yet I can say I have never been treated in the manner I was by that ministry’s founder and board. Even though I have worked in one of the most cutthroat industries in the business world, the worst type of office politics I’ve experienced hasn’t come close to how I was dealt with by that group of professing Christians.
What do you do with something like that? When the world has a historical track record of being a better/safer place to work than a Christian organization?
Another example: I had lunch recently with the CEO of one of the largest Microsoft software consulting groups in my part of the country. The guy is an industry veteran and a solid believer. Somehow, we got onto this subject and he surprised me by saying, “I won’t do business with any professing Christian company.” When I asked him why that was, he told me that once the other business finds out he’s a Christian, they take what he called “extensions of grace”. He explained that it could take the form of not paying on time, not delivering work when promised, or asking for fee or labor reductions without cause.
While listening to R. C. Sproul the other day, I heard him say the exact same thing in a message on Christian ethics. Sproul was talking about a business man he knew who didn’t want to do business with Christians, and Sproul startled me by saying, “I have to say, I don’t like doing business with Christians.” He went on to state that it amazed him how many believers order tapes from his Ligonier ministries and never pay for them.
Such a thing makes me think back to some friends we have who had a house built some years ago by a homebuilder that went to our church. In fact, the guy played guitar in the worship band; I can still picture him in my mind singing worship hymns in front of the entire congregation, his eyes closed, etc. The fact was, he was ripping people off by building faulty homes, one of which my friends had contracted him to build. The job was so bad that the local housing authority wouldn’t allow them to live in it. They took this guy to our church elders who didn’t resolve the situation, and they finally had to take him to the real estate commission who forced the homebuilder to make the home at least livable so my friends could sell it. But not before they lost a ton of money in the process. And the ‘Christian’ homebuilder? He ended up fleeing the state. I wonder if he’s playing in another worship band somewhere?
I’ve unfortunately experienced some of this myself, although not as extreme as what my friends went through with their house. We have a local business directory called The Shepherd’s Guide that lists Christian run businesses. Without exception (and sadly I mean without exception) every time I have tried to call one of those businesses to do some work, they have either failed to show up when they said they would or failed to deliver what was promised.
Take my word for it, even the smallest things can add up to give the Church a black eye. Last summer, I had an experience with a landscape company that advertised on our local Christian radio station and prominently stated their faith position in the commercial. I called them to come out and fertilize my lawn, which they said they would take care of immediately. But after several weeks, they still had not done the job. Emails and phone calls went unreturned. I finally got a call from the owner apologizing and promising again to do the job. But I told him “thanks but no thanks”, called another local landscape business (not Christian run), and they had my yard fertilized the very next day.
Again, an experience like that may seem like a very small thing, but both Christians and non-Christians alike remember them; they do have a lasting impact. How much greater impression do studies have that show the divorce rate is nearly the same inside and outside the Church; that church-going teens get pregnant almost as much as non-church attenders; and that alcohol abuse occurs just about as much among professing Christians as unbelievers.
The Fifth Gospel
Mark Gauthier, national director in the United States for Campus Crusade for Christ, argues that today’s unbeliever oftentimes decides whether to accept a teaching not on propositional arguments and proof, but rather on seeing “success” in the lives of those who have submitted themselves to the teaching. In the college-aged unbelievers he worked with, Gauthier asked them if they would become Christians if he presented iron-clad evidence that the gospel was true and found that their responses started out as ‘yes’, but then went to ‘no, not really’ as they admitted to him that their real deciding factor for believing was an evidentially pragmatic proof: “show me how this can change my life; let me see someone else who has found that it works for them.” In other words, let’s see just how authentic these Christians are, and if they walk the talk, then I’ll actually consider the faith.
To this point, Ravi Zacharias says, "How do you communicate with a generation that listens with its eyes and things with its feelings? You will need an apologetic that is not merely heard, but is also seen. If my Christian life is not visible to my neighbor, no amount of prophetic utterance is going to convince that neighbor that Christianity is true. Is your life in private that which you claim in public?"
In essence, then, the Christian becomes the only gospel some unbelievers will ever “read”. When the non-Christian sees a mismatch between what they have heard piecemeal about the teachings and life of Jesus and His professing followers, they naturally get confused at first and then without even realizing it (if their experience persists with other supposed believers), they give Christianity an “F” in the test of existential relevancy and walk away.
This is what the Apostle Paul drives home to his readers in the second chapter of Romans. He asks his audience if they boast in God and if they think they’re a shining example to others who just don’t seem to measure up to them, then they need to do a quick self-exam. Do they break the very things they say others should follow? Are their lives an antithesis of what God’s Word says? If so, Paul says, “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rom. 2:24). In other words, the Roman Christians poor behavior reflected back on the Creator in a very negative way, and this intimates Paul, is a very damning thing.
But when believers adhere to Christ’s defining mark of “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35), then the unbelieving world is impacted in a positive way. In the early Church, Tertullian noted that the Romans would oftentimes exclaim, “See how they love one another!”
Perhaps the most graphic example of this selfless love happened during the terrible plague of Galen that occurred between AD 165 and 180. Whereas Christians selflessly stayed behind and helped the dying (oftentimes becoming infected themselves), the early Church bishop Dionysus wrote: “The heathen [non-Christians] behaved in the very opposite way. At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease; but do what they might, they found it difficult to escape.”
What is the Cure?
So what is the way to defeat what I believe is the best argument against Christianity? I think there are a number of things that must be addressed before this issue can be put to rest.
First, I’m convinced that the modern day Church is pregnant with unbelievers. What’s wrong with that, you ask? There’s nothing wrong with unbelievers coming to church, but there’s a very real problem when they stay unbelievers. In our seeker friendly church programs, unbelievers aren’t being confronted with their fallenness, need for repentance, and requirement to show fruit as proof of their conversion. Stanley High describes today’s church like this:
“The church has failed to tell me that I am a sinner. The church has failed to deal with me as a lost individual. The church has failed to offer me salvation in Jesus Christ alone. The church has failed to tell me of the horrible consequences of sin, the certainty of hell, and the fact that Jesus Christ alone can save. We need more of the last judgment . . . more of the living God and the living devil as well, more of a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. The church must bring me not a message of cultivation but of rebirth. I might fail that kind of church, but that kind of church will not fail me.”
In other words, says Stanley High, the Church has stopped telling people the truth about their lostness. Until that changes, and pastors/teachers become less like motivational speakers and more like real prophets of God, the Church will continue to be a place where unbelievers come and leave with no transformation having taken place, with the end result being lives lived out that stand in stark contrast to Biblical principles.
Second, true believers need to take seriously the spiritual warfare in which they are engaged. Instead of letting the flesh, the world, and Satan win round after round to the extent that their life appears no different than an unbeliever, Christians need to get aggressive with their spiritual opponents and start living like overcomers instead of being overcome. The writer of Hebrews urges us: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us [great saints who serve as godly examples], let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1).
Third, we all need to re-read Romans 2 and ask ourselves if we’re guilty of preaching things we don’t live out. If so, we need to repent and start being obedient in our actions to what God’s Word says.
Lastly, Christians need to feed the new creature in Christ that is inside them such that new desires spring forth and fruit is born that is in keeping with Jesus’ statement of, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).
This equates to a holy lifestyle; one that is in the world but separate from it. In the same way a boat can be in the water and exist just fine, but not be of the water and sink, we need to live lives that mirror what James speaks about: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world" (James 1:27).
James also points out a faith that does not act is no real faith at all: “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?" (James 2:15–16). Faith in action is what defeats the argument of Christianity failing the existential relevancy test. This is not just a New Testament concept, but is something found everywhere in Scripture. Isaiah echoes James almost verbatim with God’s command to His people: “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:16–17).
Put more simply, just follow Christ’s law of love: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12).
One of my favorite Christian speakers/teachers is Michael Ramsden who heads up the European arm of the Ravi Zacharias ministry. He has a great message entitled “Conversational Apologetics” that covers a number of areas on how Christians should interact with unbelievers.
In the message, Ramsden talks about how one of the most effective techniques Jesus used in His ministry was asking his audience pertinent questions to draw out their presuppositions and real beliefs. He also talks about Christians being given an opportunity to speak about their faith when they are asked questions by non-Christians. However, he says typically the only way this happens is when unbelievers notice that the Christian is ‘different’ than either they are or the world in general.
Then Ramsden asks, “When was the last time someone asked you why you’re different? If you’re not getting asked questions by non-Christians, then perhaps it’s because your life doesn’t show anything new, attractive, or different than the world.”
Tough question to consider, eh?
So when was the last time someone noticed you were different? Does the way you conduct yourself in the world showcase your faith, or do you pretty much blend right in?
The best argument against Christianity is oftentimes us. Let’s start changing that right now. We we all be able to truthfully say with Paul, "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor 11:1).