[Letter #3 from MISSISSIPPI - Part 6 of "A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi", a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]
Hello again SEATTLE,
I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!
Sitting in church listening and thinking, I have come up with more thoughts for you on this conversation.
First, I have also experienced the desire to let people know that not all Christians are like “that.” I’ve spent time and energy trying to convince some people of that, and finally realized that as long as I believed the Bible was exclusively true, and not just a nice story, they thought of me like “that” anyway. So I guess I have gotten burned by that type of motivation….I also came to realize that pride was at least part of it. “If you knew ME you might have a better view of Christians, I’m not THAT kind of (ignorant, stupid, prejudiced, kooky, crazy, homophobic, racist, redneck, protesting, abortion-clinic-blowing-up, hateful or judgmental) Christian.” I really thought that those adjectives were the problem. And for some people, maybe they are. Let’s make sure we aren’t doing the damage ourselves, however, by misrepresenting our brothers and sisters as actually being this way, if they are not…(dishonest protest picture).
Second, I mentioned that Jesus promised the world would hate us. Not that we should seek that out from the world, but that we shouldn’t have a problem with the world hating us or hating Jesus because of us. It’s just not true that “we must be doing something wrong if people hate us.” In fact, considering what Jesus promises, a more appropriate question would be, are we following him with integrity if no one hates us?
You interpret “the world” to mean other Christians. This gets into a really common attitude today. People love to say that Christ’s biggest enemies were the religious people of his day…implying therefore, if He came back today, WE would be his enemies. Todd Agnew’s popular song, “My Jesus” says: my Jesus would never be accepted in my church / The blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet / But He reaches for the hurting and despises the proud / I think He’d prefer Beale Street [bars/nightclubs] to the stained glass crowd….
Back then “religious” people were completely different than they are today. They were an orthodox group with special status…not just any common person could believe and become “religious” the way they do today. For the most part, those who are “religious” by today’s definition are not modern-day Pharisees, but rather his disciples! His disciples were sinners who changed their entire lives after encountering him. The “sinners” he loved too much, gathered around to hear him speak the good news. They loved and believed in him.
The Pharisees’ problem was not that Jesus loved too much, it was his message that sinners-become-disciples had equal or greater spiritual status than the Pharisees. The prodigal son who comes home and the man who begins work at the 11th hour receive equal rewards as lifelong rule-keepers. Rather than the pious and self-righteous, pure-blood Jews who had always been in charge, every day “sinners” had equal access to eternal life. This offended those in charge, because they wanted to be saved for what they were doing, not for believing in Jesus. My point is that Jesus will be hated by those who do not believe in him, whether they are sinners or happen to call themselves “religious.”
I also think you made a false statement about the world we live in. You said, “If people who DID believe thought Jesus loved too much, how much more those who don’t believe?” First, like I said, I don’t think it was those who believed, and I don’t think it was loving too much, it was not wanting everyone who believed in Christ to be saved. But, my real problem with this statement is that it misrepresents our culture. Tolerance, acceptance and affirmation are the gods of our age. I would be shocked if “the world” would ever hate anyone for loving too much today. So I really just don’t think that’s what Jesus is talking about here.
Finally, I thought about Sodom & Gomorrah and Lot’s attitude there, and that he was praised as a righteous man…He did not engage or accept the culture there. In fact he was accused of “judging” them simply for not wanting to aid them in their sin. You mentioned Jonah…whatever other points might be made, the message he was sent by God to preach to total strangers was, repent or be destroyed. That was the message, and it worked! Even though he didn’t love them first or at all, even though they had no relationship with him and no reason to listen to him. Verbal violence? God was pleased that he was able to spare Ninevah (I am sure they were thrilled too) and that would not have been possible if not for Jonah’s message. In Revelation and the letters to the churches, tolerating the sinful, immoral and idolatrous among them is an incredible offense against Jesus; not tolerating or even hating the wicked is seen as a virtue! In Romans 1, Paul talks about people knowing that sins deserve death but that they not only continued sinning but also approved of those who did, implying that something other than approval was needed.
Intolerance for sin seems to be biblical….but it’s pretty much the worst thing you could display in our culture. So I think that’s a pretty good reason why the world might hate us. I never said we should be hateful or that we should not love sinners, but I don’t think that we should turn against other Christians who feel called to speak the truth. We don’t know that someone might not be saved that way. Who’s to say that but God? One of my old churches decided to not try to bring anyone to church but just offer free water or carwashes on Saturday so they could be loving like Jesus. That’s good for the church members, but I’m sure it won’t help anyone else’s soul. And frankly, as long as there is just 1 wacky church out there to make the news, our PR with the world is never going to be improved anyway. That seems to be the wrong tree to be barking up.
Like I said, I’m not condoning hate and I do realize there are hateful Christians out there. I’m also not saying that having these meaningful, loving relationships with the lost is wrong. I don’t think that, I think it’s awesome. I’m glad there are Christians out there doing that but I am also glad there are Christians out there willing to speak the truth in a culture where that is one of the only things considered to be “wrong.” It’s a shame that believers are hating you for what you’re doing, but I also think it’s a shame that believers have joined the world in hating the others for their message. Because I think that’s what we are all supposed to be about, in a united way, now more than ever.
Many more thoughts to follow…. I have started rereading the NT through this lens. It is strange that I would consider something so important and basic, a new way of thinking. But for me, a lot of these questions and considerations really are new. I suppose what is new, is the postmodern statement that protest without relationship is verbal violence, along with the presumption that publicly speaking truth is “protest.” But whatever the prompting, I think the question is important and deserves to have time spent on it! So, thanks again.