Sunday, 21 September 2008

What would Jesus Think?

I was talking with a Christian prisoner the other day who has let himself down by failing a drug test (well, not by failing the test but by taking the drugs that led to the failed test) after a long period of success in staying away from them. He is upset at himself and worried about telling his family what he's done. He has done so well for so long, and particularly because of his relatively new found Christian faith feels that this should just not have happened.

In the course of our long conversation, we talked about this as one of these two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back things. He wasn't buying that particularly as it feels like two steps back for him just now.

We also talked about how God is likely to view it. One of the things we pondered was how serious is this in God's eyes? It's wrong to take drugs. It's against the law for one thing, and Christians should live within the law. But at the same time it's just one sin among so many that we all commit all the time. I told him that Jesus says that the most important commandment is to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second, according to Jesus, is to love your neighbour as yourself. These two, the MOST IMPORTANT two commandments are the ones that the prisoner, the governor, the chaplain and all of us in the prison and outside it break every single day. So we're all pretty much as bad as each other, whether our drug tests turn out negative or positive. I told him God still loves him.

Later that day I was talking to a group of Christian prisoners about the one sin that most gets up the nose of Jesus. It's not failing a drug test. It's not adultery or even murder that Jesus picks out for special mention. The sin that Jesus, followed by Paul in his writings, is most forceful (even brutal) about is the sin of Christians judging their fellow Christians. Judging, bitterness, resentment, jealousy, negativity and constant criticism annoy Jesus intensely. To such an extent is He irked by them that the Bible says that if we won't forgive other people their sins then God won't forgive ours. At all.

The church the world over is made up of REAL and FAKE Christians. They're all mixed together - "wheat and weeds" the Bible says, rather than "real and fake"! And the Bible also says that people outside the church should be able to spot us (Jesus said, "By this shall everyone know that you're my disciples - that you love each other"). There's no such thing as a perfect Christian, of course. I am thoroughly aware of my own imperfections for example. But still it is the case that by and large even folk outside the church tend to grudgingly admit that they can spot the difference between the real and the fake Christian.

In prison guys used to pretend to be converted and start hanging around chaplaincy stuff with a view to improving their chances of parole. Nowadays, I reckon, talking about a conversion experience is more likely to see their mental health questioned and discussion of their "psychotic episode"! (I'm only half joking, actually). Anyway, many a prisoner has told me about fake Christians among the prisoners and how they may be able to keep it up for a wee while in front of the chaplain but they give the game away when they're back in the hall.

Churches have a mixture too of real and fake Christians. I could be a fake one if I stopped believing, as with my background I could talk the talk very convincingly. However my lack of love would soon give the game away.

I have three examples from my church experience to illustrate this lack of love. I'm ashamed of them, even though they were nothing to do with me - I'm ashamed of them because they were members of the church and I love the church.

The first was in 1986, when I took some guys to church, from the night shelter I was working in at the time. It was a well known evangelical church with a reputation for being something special. It had lots of great people in it of course. But I discovered that some people (only a few, I want to emphasize) weren't very pleased at my bringing these homeless guys to the church. A few months earlier the same people were complaining that the youth club members (unchurched kids) were damaging the fabric of the recently refurbished building with their football etc.. Where was these people's love and their heart for mission? I wonder if they were FAKES.

Also quite some time ago, a minister friend and most of his church leadership were exercised in their minds about the amount of unemployment that had suddenly befallen their area following the closure of a big steelworks. They began a club that unemployed people could come to during the day to meet each other and get free coffee and a welcome. However a couple of quite snobby elders complained about the type of person that the minister was bringing in. Where was these people's love and their heart for mission? I wonder if they were FAKES.

More recently, another minister friend and his church leadership decided to donate a big floral display they'd had for a special occasion to a local prison, to brighten the visits area (for as long as the flowers would last). The prison staff, prisoners and families were touched at this act of caring. However the minister received two complaints from people in his congregation that the flowers shouldn't be going to a prison as the prisoners didn't deserve them. Where was these people's love and their heart for mission? I wonder if they were FAKES.

The three groups of complainers I've described probably wouldn't approve of Jesus either, btw, as He famously hung out with tax collectors and sinners, eating and drinking with them.

I am convinced that God would 100% rather have the genuine love of a flawed human being in the shape of the prisoner I described, in spite of his failed drug test, than all the middle class snobby complacency of the FAKE Christian whose religion is worn as a cloak of respectibility to cover up their total absence of grace.

12 comments:

co_heir said...

"I am convinced that God would 100% rather have the genuine love of a flawed human being in the shape of the prisoner I described, in spite of his failed drug test, than all the middle class snobby complacency of the FAKE Christian whose religion is worn as a cloak of respectibility to cover up their total absence of grace."

I'm with you.

Terridan I said...

During my Sunday School lesson this morning we talked about how strong men tend to make the same mistakes over and over again. One of my Christian brothers confessed that he too was disappointed in himself for turning back to drugs twice. He stated he only did it two days in a 2 week interval. But he did it nonetheless. My brother in christ found Jesus while in prison. With that said what bothered me most about his confession is that he felt as though God had failed him because he had prayed to God that he could not defeat this problem on his own. You it had to be said that what happened to him was not God's fault but it was him giving into his carnal mind which was tempted by the flesh. People have to realize and fully accept into their hearts that we all stumble. Jesus changes us from the inside out. Once he changes us on the inside we have to let the change in us spring forth all to see. We must begin the process of removing the ungodly out of our lives while fulling our lives with Godly things.

Plankeye said...

Without wishing to diminish the importance of the very valid point you make; there is a danger that your piece could be parodied as follows:

"It's wrong to judge other people for their sins - unless their sin happens to be judgementalism, in which case it's OK.

And it's wrong to be a snob, unless your snobbery is inverted."

How can this be resolved without losing the force of your legitimate argument?

AnneDroid said...

Yes plankeye. I wondered about that too - I tend to be very judgemental about judgementalism! I need to think more about that = and will do as I drive to work today. Thanks. On reflection I also wondered if I was implying somehow that the only people in the world who show love and grace are Christians, which is total nonsense.

That Hideous Man said...

Who in all honesty hasn't been a fake, or a hypocrite sometimes.

No first stone can be cast by me, that's for sure.

AnneDroid said...

I'm not picking up stones either, THM. I, of all folk, have no such right and I know that.

Following what plankeye (whose name alone stung me like a jellyfish this morning when I read the comment!!) said above, I've thought a lot about it.

I don't want to be looking at specks in other people's eyes when I've got dirty great planks in my own.

Plankeye says: "there is a danger that your piece could be parodied as follows:
"It's wrong to judge other people for their sins - unless their sin happens to be judgementalism, in which case it's OK.
And it's wrong to be a snob, unless your snobbery is inverted."
How can this be resolved without losing the force of your legitimate argument?"

Much as I don't want to be a hypocrite judging the judgementalists, I can't really retract my post, though I considered it. I believe what I said is true.

Here' what I think:

- according to the Bible the church contains within it "wheat and weeds" which I refer to as real and fake Christians. I think this is uncontroversial.

- I personally am not required or empowered to judge which is which. If I do, and I get it wrong, I'm in danger of judging my brother and/or sister in Christ. The Bible says the church should tolerate the weeds.

- Jesus (and Paul after him) are very fierce in their total opposition to judgementalism/unforgiveness/bitterness etc.. This also is uncontroversial.

- I was not saying that the people who raised the objections to homeless, unemployed and prisoners, in the examples were definitely FAKE Christians. I am not empowered to make that judgement (thank God). I was SPECULATING that they MAY be fakes/weeds. Thus my case for the defence, plankeye, your honour, is that I didn't cross the line into judgementalism. But I recognise that I came close to it by raising the questions I raised. And I admit that my passion for my work makes me feel quite strongly. So you may still disagree.

As for inverted snobbery, I truly hope I'm not any kind of snob. I genuinely don't think I am. I am from a middle class background myself, privately educated, and my husband is from a working class family. I don't like those terms personally. I mix with people from all walks of life, so plankeye, your honour, I'm going to plead not guilty to that charge.

That Hideous Man said...

1 Corinthians 5 remains a very tricky passage. It says that while we can't judge 'the world' we should judge believers to see if their lives match their profession of faith. It's a bit like your posting!

However it concludes that rather than let the wheat and tares mingle, the immoral brother should be expelled, "do not even eat with such a man".

Hmmm fiendishly complex...

Is the answer something to do with having to maintain an outward church order, without presuming to know where people stand before God, or equating being in fellowship with being right with Him?

Hmmmm - fiendishly complex, because even such a solution while it might help with this riddle poses a whole other set of problems.

Hmmm - fiendishly complex!

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

This whole judgment of judgment concept is a fine line to walk, but I think in this case, you were asking questions and not presuming to know for sure what was in the mind or heart of the others.

That hideous man is right though. It's hideously complex.

(Thanks for coming back and remarking on my post.)

Graham said...

Grace. It's all about grace. And a church that fails to show grace to the very people Jesus most clearly identified with, ceases to be the church of Jesus Christ - no matter how "holy" it may be. Jesus typified grace - yet had no time for those who claimed to be religious yet misrepresented His very heart to others. The only people Jesus seemed to lack grace towards were the religious who had no heart.

Anne - you have heart. And you are right to speak out against attitudes that undermine the very nature of God that we are called to bear witness to. "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees! Go and learn what this means - God desires mercy, not sacrifice."

Doorman-Priest said...

There are some challenging thoughts in there which we would all do well to dwell on.

AnneDroid said...

Thanks all of you. One week on, and I'm still thinking about this mini-debate off and on. That's unusual for a butterfly-brain like me, btw!

My butterfly-brain means that blogging suits me because you don't need to have a good memory and you can change the subject every day if you want. Lol.

Baino said...

Well if being judgmental is a sin, boy I'm sinning in spades! I'm not sure they play out as fake Christians but I do have a problem with those who behave badly all week then become suddenly pure of heart on Sunday. Good luck picking the real from the pretenders by the way! Then they'll all be judged by a higher power eventually - parole or no parole