Wednesday, August 4, 2021

A Fringe Movement

This week, we're talking about how some Christian leaders are very quick, at the world's command, to condemn our Christianity. But should they be? 

So far, we've asked a couple of fundamental questions: who is using the name of Jesus and how is the name of Jesus being used? These are questions to which we must know the answers before we issue any kind of response to the world's criticisms of our faith. 

The next question is similar and is also very important: what is the nature of the Jesus being claimed?

This goes to the notion that we introduced slightly yesterday, which is simply that there is Christianity...and then there are fringe movements of Christianity. There always have been and there always will be. From the very beginning, there have been small sects of certain fanatics who all believe they can push Christianity further in one direction or another by some special, amazing understanding that they have come to of it that changes the whole game. 

The trouble is that most of these fringe movements not only change the whole game; they change the whole Gospel. They change the very nature of Christ. They change the witness of Christianity to the world. They change the foundational truths that got us this far for more than 2,000 years. They change the testimony of the disciples. They change...everything. 

And these groups are usually extremely vocal about it. They want to share their special, amazing knowledge with everyone. They love taking the front row and standing up and proudly proclaiming that they have finally figured it all out! They are the ones who have the truth.

There are a second set of fringe Christian groups that we also cannot afford to ignore. These are the folks who, for lack of a better expression, spend their whole faith feasting on spiritual milk, suckling at the same most basic ideas for their whole lives. These are the Christians who have very black and white understandings of spiritual things and whose faith is exactly the same today as it was fifty years ago - it never changes. It never grows. It never develops any nuance. It never responds to its own experience in the world. These, too, are groups that can dramatically misrepresent the Christian faith.

In terms of the conversation at hand, where Christianity is being so strongly linked to politics, here's the example: most Christians who voted in the last election voted Republican. That's just a truth. Most voted for Trump. But most Christians who voted for Trump in the last election didn't do so because they think Jesus commanded them to or that God wanted Trump to win. And most Christians who voted for Trump were nowhere near the Capitol on January 6. And when I say "most," I mean - overwhelmingly. The number of so-called "Christian radicals" for Trump is actually very, very small. 

What the world has done is to lump all Christians in with this fringe group and to claim that we are all the same, then demand that we apologize for that and condemn ourselves. This is exactly what too many Christian pastors and authors and leaders have stepped up to do. "Yes, yes. We're terrible people, us Christians." 

But we're not. This fringe group is not representative of our Christianity, of mainstream Christian faith, of the overwhelming majority of persons in America who call themselves Christians - even persons in America who call themselves Christians and voted for Trump. If we condemn ourselves because of them, then what we're saying to the world is that they're right - we're all the same. We are all just like that. And the truth is that we know that we're not. 

Christianity's response to these fringe groups has always been the same - consistently live a witness according to our Gospel, according to our true faith, and let these fringe groups condemn themselves. This is harder in a world where story is so important and language is a weapon. We believe that if we don't shout them down, if we don't address them, if we don't say something, these fringe groups are going to take hold and run rampant and hijack our story even more than they already have.

Let's be clear on this: the story of Jesus persists more than 2,000 years after His life, death, and resurrection. It remains the story of grace, hope, and love. It is fundamentally unchanged from the very first telling of it for the majority of those who call themselves Christians, who continue to grow in their faith, who nuance their faith to their world. But how many of Christianity's fringe groups can you name? 

The Gospel is not in as much trouble as the world wants to tell us that it is. 

At least, it wouldn't be if we would stop condemning ourselves to appease our culture. 

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