It’s no secret that Christianity in western culture is on a decline. Not only are we shrinking as a group while other faiths like Judaism and Islam in particular are on the rise, but our image and what we represent in the culture around us is dismantling. If you asked people on the street what they think of Christians, you are likely to get answers like “judgmental,” “hypocrites,” “hateful,” “vengeful,” “intolerant,” and “backwards.” What is worse, if you ask an atheist what they think about God you are likely to get some of the same answers (and I would love to point out that this proves they actually do “believe” there is a God and just choose to ignore him because they don’t like him. But that’s a point for a later discussion.)
We cannot completely blame outward culture for having this opinion about Christians, after all Christians are only humans and we are flawed. We have all shown ourselves at our worst to people around us. Perhaps you have been caught spreading the latest rumor about a coworker. You may have been caught telling an off color joke with a group of friends. You might have lost your temper and gone off on someone in public. Our humanity often gets the best of us at the worst possible times, and when we publicly bear the name Christian our flaws latch on to that name as well as our own. But what we cannot reconcile is that the outside culture views God as having the same flaws as his followers. Though I believe this has less to do with the actions of individual Christians, and more about how the church is viewed as a whole.
That is not a real shocker either, though it should be upsetting to us. Christianity in the early days of the Church grew exponentially in communities of the weak, oppressed, and the socially and culturally disenfranchised. Why? Because Christianity was the only faith that lifted the meek and the humble and the outcast. It preached as Jesus preached “the last will be first,” and they lived it. Christianity became known for its compassion, its willingness to get down and dirty to lift up everyone it could touch. And those who saw this were endeared to the faith. And not only did the poor and the outcast accept the faith because of the hope they saw in it, but the rich and strong and powerful in society accepted it because they saw the good it did with limited means. How much more, they asked, could be done with the abundance and blessings we have at our disposal? And through all this, people learned who God was. Not this dictatorial, overbearing, vengeful being who lords over us like his playthings but as a loving, kind, benevolent father. Is he capable of swift judgement? Yes but he is perfectly just. Does he demand perfection? Yes, but he also went far out of his way to provide forgiveness for our imperfection. Christianity grew because the world saw that God is present, and that he cares for us.
So the question begs to be asked, what happened? Why has the world’s view of God changed so much?
The answer lies not in the character of God; it is wholly in the character of the church that the guilt is born.
And to see this, you have to look no further than the church’s attitude in today’s biggest issues and controversies. How we respond toward the outcast and disenfranchised in our society. We are so quick to tell the homosexual, the alcoholic, the mother who chose abortion, the drug addict, the thief, and the criminal that they are sinners and that they are broken and unacceptable to God. We are so quick to walk past the beggar on the street in dire need and say “Why should I give to you? Pull yourself together, get a job and fend for yourself!” as we ignore their need. We scream at the atheist, the Islamist, and the Jewish and anyone else outside our faith “You idiot, you are wrong and blind and foolish!” and condemn them, and ostracize them in society.
As the church’s policy toward the world has done an 180˚ turn, so has the world’s view on Christianity. And so has its view of the God we serve. We have come to represent a False God. The world thinks we serve a God who doesn’t exist. We have allowed it. We have caused it. We have changed our message from “Come just as you are” to “Come as long as you meet this list of requirements, and stay away if any of this list applies to you.” We no longer cry out “God IS Love”, but “God will love you if you obey him, and if you don’t then he doesn’t have the time to be bothered with you.” We have come to represent the character of our False God, and the world has taken it hook line and sinker. And so we have become the very false teachers we were warned about!
But hope is not lost. While the number in the church is decreasing, the power of Christ can still be active, strong, and growing still. More and more we are seeing groups leaving the church, going out and being proactive in the name of Christ. Groups studying on their own with their focus totally on Christ are re-discovering the true nature of God. We have decided that the only way to turn the ship is by purposefully reaching out to the individual with the love that personifies the God who sacrificed his son for us. The same love we need to be showing to any and all that cross into our path.
And while we may be on the fringe of the faith, we can slowly infect the rest of it. We can be like the salt and the light we are called to be, changing everything we come in contact with the way salt and light do. We have to make a conscious and purposeful effort to reflect the character of the true God to combat the facade of the False God that has taken such deep root in our world.
If this article spoke to you, check out some of our earlier articles.