Saturday, 28 April 2012

They'll Know We Are Christians By Our ... What?

Photo Credit: Michelle Jung, Flickr Creative Commons
Is there any way for the world to know we are Christians simply by looking at us?  Is it possible for someone to correctly label us as “Christians” simply by way of their observation of us in our day-to-day lives or our online interactions? I’m sorry, but some so-called Christian sites really should come equipped with Pepto-Bismol.

Has the visible distinction between Christians and the world gotten somewhat cloudy lately? If so, what caused it, and how do we return to being separate from the world? Should we even strive for a return to apartness from it? Does “holiness” (being set apart) still apply, and if so, what does that mean?
I confess that I often have more questions than I have answers, so if it is answers you’re looking for, I’m sorry to say that you most likely won’t find them here. All you’ll find here are the musings of an old biker, nicknamed by some, “Preacher.”

As I thought about some of these questions, I began to think also of that old Peter Scholtes hymn we used to sing:
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord 
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord 
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored 
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love 
They will know we are Christians by our love
Is that really true? Will they know we are Christians by our love? It all sounds nice and utopian, but is it true?
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons
Let me share an observation. I believe that the world loves just like Christians love, and sometimes they even do a better job of it. I know many non-Christians who do a much better job in the “love” department than many Christians that I know. At very least, they often do a better job of it than me. So if we are talking about the external observation of “love” as being criteria for someone being a Christian, then we clearly have a problem. Everyone, regardless of faith or lack of faith, is capable of love to one degree or another. Jesus said, “Even sinners love those who love them” (Luke 6:32; NIV).
I’ve heard some people say that the proof of the Christian walk is in the “fruits of the Spirit.” What does that mean? The apostle Paul said, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22; ESV). OK, this raises another question, are those traits observable in Christians only? Do we have exclusive rights to those “fruits?” No, I don’t think so. Again, I know many non-Christians to whom I would easily apply several of these terms and, ironically, many professing Christians to whom I would not apply them at all.
So if all of this is true, then we’re back to ground zero. Can someone tell a true Christian from a pseudo-Christian, or non-Christian, simply by observation? And if so, what is the determining factor(s) that differentiate the one from the other?
Anyone can say they are Christian. Many cults call themselves Christian. I've even heard friends within Mormonism describe themselves as Christians. Is the whole question a subjective one? I cannot really accept that; it seems there must be more to it than subjectivity, but what is it?
Photo Credit: Allie
Flickr Creative Commons
Let’s revisit Paul. He spoke of “Christ in you” (Colossians 1:27). Does the internal Christ in you and me reveal Himself externally in an observable and obvious different manner than what is seen externally in the lives of non-believers? If so, then how? If I walk down the street to my local coffee shop, will the people I pass “know” that I am a Christian? How will they know?
Forget the christianese bumper stickers, tee shirts, and execution jewelry (the cross necklaces, etc.); anyone can have those and they don’t make someone a Christian any more than someone “going” to an institutional church makes them a Christian. They don’t make someone a Christian any more than the person who swears by using the Lord’s name in vain makes him a Christian either. Even those saying, “Jesus is Lord,” as spiritual as that sounds, could actually be liars.
I really am not trying to be a smart a** here. These are questions that have been weighing on me for a while now. The fact is, the devil himself can preach a powerful sermon of deception (John 8:44), and Pharaoh’s magicians did duplicate many of the miracles that God did through Moses (Exodus 7:11). The point is, externals may be deceptive. So where is the answer found? Is there a sure fire way to know? What is it?
Probably one of my all time favorite biographies is “Rees Howells: Intercessor” by Norman Grubb. Let me share a little excerpt:
But if at the beginning the world was affecting him, by the end it was he who was affecting the world, for people sensed the presence of God with him, and said so. Even some with no religious faith would take their hats off when they passed him on the streets. One old man used to tell people, “You mark my words: there goes a modern John the Baptist.” An evidence of the effect he had on the district was seen later when a man who did not know his name simply asked the ticket collector at the station where “the man with the Holy Ghost” lived and was directed to Mr. Howells! (Page 118-119)
I’ve often mused, if a stranger who didn’t know my name showed up at the receptionist’s desk in my workplace and asked where the office of “the man with the Holy Ghost” was, would he automatically be directed to my office? Hmm, I wonder.
They’ll know we are Christians by our … what?
Photo Credit: Brian Anderson
Flickr Creative Commons
Something my wife recently said about this resonated with me. She said, “Sometimes you can just see the emptiness in some people’s eyes.” Someone else once said, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” Maybe the answers to all these questions lie simply in discernment. Maybe it all comes down to looking into people’s eyes. And the only way to look into the eyes of another is to spend time together in good old-fashioned face-to-face fellowship.
Maybe it’s time for us to spend a little less time online and a little more time face-to-face with people. Maybe that’s where I’ll find the answers to these questions that have been plaguing me of late.

With all due respect to my online friends, I’m logging off now, going to call a friend or two, leave the house, and get together again face-to-face like we used to in those wonderful days before the Internet came and subtly stole that away from many of us. Remember those days?
That’s the way I see it anyway. Peace.

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