Friday, February 01, 2008


I've been reading some summaries of a book that I think would be fascinating - and convicting. [You can read them at,,,,

Unchristian reports on studies by George Barna's research group and basically says that American nonbelievers and unchurched believers find Christians, well, unchristian.

This is always a risk in a society where Christianity is the cultural norm -- nominalism was rampant after Constantine legalized Christianity. But the opportunities that God gives to Christians in an open society are profound. We can openly evangelize; have missions groups and societies; send our money all over the world. From the earliest days of the church God has made sure that all Christians everywhere were not persecuted at the same time -- and those who weren't were able to help those who were.

Sometimes people say Christians "need" to be persecuted. And while it is true that there is a purity that can come with persecution, the persecuted church is no more a perfect church than we are. In fact, historically when persecution has been overly severe the church has actually weakened. Twice persecution eradicated the church in China (in the 600s and the Middle Ages); after all the believers in Japan were killed in one swoop the church never regained its strength to this day; and the eastern church survived but never again thrived after its days of persecution. Christians in persecuted countries do have a chance for purity, but they also face recanted confessions of faith -- and bitter, divisive fights over what to do with those who recant and then return to the faith.

So while I can sympathize with the desire for purity that can come with persecution, I think since God has blessed us to be part of the unpersecuted body of Christ during this time, we should instead focus on other solutions that God lays out for the problems noted in Unchristian.
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31, ESV)
We so easily forget that the two top commandments are our priority - and they are so closely linked that they are really inseparable (1 John 4:7-12). It is so easy to focus on "what not to do" and to be defined by what we are against -- and fall right into the trap of the church at Ephesus.

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what
the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
(Rev. 2:1-7, ESV)
The church at Ephesus hated the same things God hated - but it wasn't enough to be against something. They forsook their first love. They failed to be characterized by love.

Love characterized the early church's interactions with each other and their neighbors. In fact, in the book Plagues, Priests, and Demons, Daniel T. Reff argues that the "charity" (agape love shown through practical acts of servant love) that characterized the church as plague spread across the Roman Empire and later Europe led to the rapid expansion of Christianity in those regions. Simply put, as people saw how Christians took care of each other and others, and did the dirty jobs in society, while the "elite" fled in self-preservation, people decided that Christianity was real.

So many of you have experienced this truth. As you go to the field, you determine to do what no one else wants to do, to show love to the people you minister to.

It's a lesson we need to learn. Sure, we should speak the truth - but in love. And we need to first demonstrate that love through practical, book of James-type love, and deal with individuals as people not as abstract categories. Our friend Joe, who knows we have been there for him, will be a lot more likely to hear us when we share Biblical teaching against ________________ (you fill in the blank), than if we don't know him and treat him as an abstract category: "All those ___________ are flat-out sinful." We will also be more likely to pray for the transformation that only God can bring if we really have invested ourselves into Joe's life.

So the conviction I've had as I've read these articles on Unchristian is that our failures are really failures of love. The church in America needs to rediscover the Great Commandments. We should love God, passionately worshiping Him, glorifying Him in our lives, enjoying Him, studying His Word, working for His purposes and not our own. And we should see that love overflow in love to others - our families, the body of Christ, our co-workers, the lady at the Hardee's drive-through, the waitress who expects the Sunday crowd to be rude and poor tippers.

As we do, I expect we'll find that we're not considered "Unchristian" at all.

In fact, we'll look more like Him every day.

No comments: