Of Christ and Christians

Mahatma Gandhi is widely attributed with saying “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”  Although I’ve not confirmed that in any of his writings or interviews, and scholars doubt that he said those words, there is no doubt that the sentiment strikes a chord with many, many people.  That is surely because the common charge that “Christian churches are filled with self-righteous, judgmental hypocrites” has at least some basis in fact.  Sadly, this charge overlooks some of the incredibly compassionate, loving and self-sacrificing followers of Christ among us today and through the ages who have “walked their talk” and improved the lives and circumstances of many people throughout the world. Nevertheless, it is understandable that non-believers might fail to dig deeper to discover that when the shrill voices of some who claim to be Christians are so judgmental and off-putting.  In short, they’re nothing like Christ himself.

Besides the clear teaching of Jesus to his followers “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1), and the proclamation that he didn’t come to judge the world but to save it (John 3:17 ), it is impossible to square the judgmental approach with the Gospel message that true Christians are entrusted to share.  By “judgmental”, I am referring to the practice of pointing out the faults or sins of others in order to make them look bad.  A “shorthand” and common way to do this is to “label” the others, thereby impugning them (at least to one’s like-minded audience) in one fell swoop without any need for explanation.

The Message of Reconciliation

Yet we find in the New Testament this description of the message that Christ-followers bear:

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.   And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.  So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)

Like Jesus Told

What would it be like if the message sounding from the churches that bear Jesus’ name is that a new life is available to anyone in Christ—God is not counting people’s sins against them and neither are we?  What if the message was one of love and reconciliation, and not judgment, and Christians did not regard (or label) other people according to their mistakes, flaws, misconceptions or wrong choices?  While that message may be threatening to the self-righteous, religious people of our day, it will certainly resonate with many who are well-aware that we are flawed, conflicted and sinful people, often teetering on the brink of despair while wondering if we can find our way back to our Creator.  You know, like when Jesus first proclaimed it.