Do not judge … Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Matthew 7:2-3
If it weren’t for Christians, I’d be a Christian. — Mahatma Ghandi
I’m with Ghandi on this one. Christians can be a prickly lot.
We are the best and the worst advertisements for the faith.
Years ago, I gave up on “church” altogether for a while. Too many perky perfect people, too many ways of saying I had it wrong. Couldn’t think what “church” was for. Then I met Maria. She cleans houses. She agreed that some in her church made her feel bad. Then she told me about when her beloved son died of cancer and she didn’t even have enough money to bury him. Already sick and hollow with grief, she just cried out to the Lord. By that night, people from her church, many of them strangers, had individually stopped by with gifts of cash totaling $6500. The exact amount she needed for a lovely service and burial for her son.
She didn’t have to tell me the lesson. Yes. Church exists to worship God and learn scripture. And yes, some of the people there make it hard to sit still for any of it. But yes, when the chips are down, many of them gather around you like a family. Maybe the family you never had. It can be the best. And the worst.
New Christians have a lot to learn. And they bring a bundle of old flesh patterns with them. My friend John thinks new Christians should be locked up for six months, before they offend anyone with their zeal and ignorance.
Other Christians can become overly impressed with all they’ve learned and become full of themselves. We still use the ancient word for the first religious know-it-alls: Pharisees. And phariseeism is still the occupational hazard of all religious people.
So what’s the problem?
When a lost and wounded person becomes a Christian, is he instantly perfect?
When a sick person walks into the doctor’s office, is he instantly healed?
The first ancient churches put baby Christians through three years of discipleship before they allowed them to receive the sacraments of the church. Taught them the rudiments of the faith. Demonstrated by their service the love and humility of mature faith. Washed their feet. Taught them scripture, prayers, sacrificial giving. How to be a part of the body of Christ and a local community of faith. Way more training than we get today.
Mainly, we forget that everybody needs love more than they need behavior police. Something in us wants to fault the ones right behind us in line. We’ve got it now; why don’t they?
Ideally, after our initial conversion to Christ, with His Spirit in us now, we learn how to best cooperate with God’s will for our lives. Learn to pray, study scripture, worship. Mold a new relationship with our Lord and Savior. All the icky, horrid kinds of “religiosity” come from starting with behavior instead. You know…the rules. True Christianity, becoming a true bondservant of Jesus, starts with Him.
That love relationship with Him changes us. And then we want to change our behavior, work in His vineyard. He loves us first, we love Him back, then we want to please Him more than our own self. Slowly, gradually. Not instantly. So there are always pilgrims along the road at every stage of formation. Pilgrims who might hurt your feelings. Other pilgrims who are not yet perfected in Love.
Yet no other group calls down such animosity in the secular public. Regular Alcoholics Anonymous members fall off the wagon all the time. Nobody shouts “Imposter!” at them. Nobody stays out of AA because of them. And nobody tells them they don’t believe them. Even hate them. Or claim the whole program is worthless. But let a Christian act bad and you’ll see it in the evening news.
One of the first things we learn to accept in our holy journey is that there are going to be some bad Samaritans along the way. And that the other pilgrims are not who we are following.